- Courtesy Of Ebru Yildiz
- Guerilla Toss
Have you ever finally escaped the frigid north for a blissful weekend on a sunny beach, only to stand in front of the ocean and wonder what actually constitutes "punk" these days? No bliss in sight. No? Because that would be incredibly stupid, as well as fabulously pointless on multiple levels, right? Wow, harsh but fair.
I don't know what the fuck is wrong with me, but that's what I recently did.
I blame Guerilla Toss. The New York-via-Boston art rock trio just released Famously Alive, its fourth full-length record and first since signing with Sub Pop. Frankly, it's all I've been listening to in my free time.
I was planning to review the album, but I realized my take would have been something like "Everybody quit your band, cancel your Netflix, let's macro-dose and listen to this record until the year is over."
My editors often indulge me, but not that much.
For those not familiar with Guerilla Toss, here's a quick download. How it started: noise rock, edgy psychedelic punk, screaming, weird time signatures. How it's going: All of that is now wrapped inside disco, funk and ... pop?
Famously Alive is a maelstrom of color and glossy sheen. A record reflecting singer Kassie Carlson's recovery from opioid addiction, it advocates for gripping life by the shoulders rather than gritting one's teeth and getting by.
As I consumed the record over and over, a thought occurred: Guerilla Toss' new record is at least pop-adjacent and is full of energy and lyrics that are almost motivational. For an art rock band, isn't that, in and of itself, a punk-rock statement?
"That's the coolest thing anyone has said about the record to me so far," Guerilla Toss' drummer, Peter Negroponte, said when I called him up to demand answers. "Can I just say that when someone asks me about the record?" he continued, laughing. "Because I think we're being accused of making a pop record."
Negroponte made it clear that he actually quite likes pop music and even admitted that the band was getting down to radio pop music while making Famously Alive.
"I mean, there's certainly elements of pop in it," he explained of the record. "But is there other pop music that sounds like this? I don't think so.
"I think we made a record about pop music," he continued. "I still think the album is pretty fucking crazy, personally."
He's not wrong. "I Got Spirit," for example, is a three-minute earworm featuring Carlson's heavily auto-tuned voice repeating "I don't care if I don't have it / I don't need it / I got spirit" like a mantra. Even here, the band manages to mix in multiple shades of its sonic identity. Negroponte's drumming is propulsive but grows in complexity as the song progresses. Arian Shafiee sneaks in echo-drenched guitars over a wash of synths, creating a joyous pep rally, an ironclad denial of the dark.
It wasn't just Carlson's recovery that sparked the record's good vibes. The band's 2019 EP, What Would the Odd Do?, offered hints of what would come as the band eased away from the dissonance in its earlier work. Despite all the fear and gloom of 2020, good things were happening for Guerilla Toss.
"There was this one day where the pandemic really started feeling real for us," Negroponte recalled. "Tom Hanks got COVID, they canceled South by Southwest, and then they canceled basketball. It was this 'Holy shit' moment. People were in the grocery store freaking out, and then ... Sub Pop called us and signed us."
He laughed again, still finding the juxtaposition of emotions ironic. "It was such a shitty time, but we were so lucky to have this record to work on."
The band is gearing up for its first tour in two years, including a stop at the Waking Windows music festival in Winooski the weekend of May 13. The three-day music and arts festival was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. This year marks the event's long-delayed 10th iteration, and Negroponte reckons Guerilla Toss have played at least half of those. Festival cofounder Paddy Reagan has said Negroponte is "the reason Waking Windows exits."
When I asked Negroponte, who lived in Burlington for four years, what he thought of Reagan's statement, he politely disagreed.
"You know, Paddy saying I helped start the fest," he said, "the reality is that it just isn't true. But I love to hear it."
The claim stems from more than a decade ago, when Negroponte was at the University of Vermont "majoring in drugs and alcohol," as he recalled. He decided to start his own music fest, called the Other Music Festival, at the Monkey House in Winooski as an alternative to and running at the same time as the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.
"I had no idea what I was doing," Negroponte admitted. "I just wanted to throw a festival with free jazz and noise music. It was the weirdest, most unrealistic idea ever."
Waking Windows' Reagan and Nick Mavodones, then operating under the moniker Angioplasty Media, approached Negroponte and asked to book one of the six days of the festival. They promptly put together the most successful day of the Other Music Festival. The experience inspired them, along with Matt Rogers and Brian and Ali Nagle, to put on their own festival, the inaugural Waking Windows, the following year.
"Whether I put on a six-day noise festival or not, those guys would have started Waking Windows either way," Negroponte asserted. "And they absolutely crushed it. I remember driving up to play our third or fourth one, I can't recall, but all of a sudden there were Porta-Potties and security and all these people."
With the festival and a tour coming up for the band, Negroponte is both excited and wary.
"I can't wait, but I'm a little nervous, naturally," he said. "It's a crazy world out there, and people are desperate. I've seen a lot of bands getting robbed lately.
"Sometimes it feels like things are in decay, but what else can you do but get out there and rock?" he continued. "So that's what we're going to do."
Coming Back to Life
- Courtesy Of Mary Jane Photography
- Dude of Life
An important figure in Burlington music history is coming back to town this weekend. Steve Pollak, aka the Dude of Life, returns to Nectar's in Burlington on Saturday, April 9, with his band, the Dude of Life Band.
Pollak played in a high school band called Space Antelope with Phish singer and guitarist Trey Anastasio. After they both matriculated at UVM, Pollak cowrote some of Phish's early material, such as "Suzy Greenberg" and "Slave to the Traffic Light." In 1994, he released his first solo album on Elektra Records, titled Crimes of the Mind and featuring Phish as his backing band.
The dude is back and touring behind a forthcoming album, his first since 1999's Under the Sound Umbrella. When he and his band hit the stage at Nectar's, it will be the first time Pollak has played the venue so integral to Phish's story since a 1994 tour. For fans of the Queen City's most famous musical export, it's a show not to be missed.
- Courtesy Of Nate Stritzler
- DARI BAY
Two of the area's best producers have given the remix treatment to indie rockers Father Figuer. Willverine and Two Sev put their stamp on songs from the band's latest record, Jack of All Fruits. Two Sev's remix of "Lemon" is a chilled-out club banger, while Willverine's "Candy" remix breaks the original song way down, adding a little funk to the track. Both remixes went live last Friday on Father Figuer's Bandcamp page.
Is it just me, or are we due for a massive remix compilation of songs by Burlington bands? To quote my favorite bald starship captain, "Make it so!"
Brattleboro's the Snaz were one of the buzziest young bands in Vermont a few years ago before summarily disbanding as the members went their separate ways. Drummer Zack James headed north to Burlington to attend UVM. In addition to doing session drums and deejaying under the moniker DJ Dark Cobra, James started a new project called DARI BAY. The project, which morphs into a band for live shows, vacillates between post-punk weirdness and shoe-gaze tranquility, both evident on James' latest release, DB 17-19: A Perfect Eruption. He brings the project to ArtsRiot in Burlington on Saturday, April 9, with support from indie rockers The Big Net and local acts Silt and Vehicle.
Correction, April 8, 2022: An earlier version of this story misspelled Steve Pollak's name and misstated the year in which his album Crimes of the Mind was released. It was released in 1994.