[Throttlerod release Turncoat on June 24 via Small Stone. Click play above for an exclusive track premiere.]
After a certain point, a band’s new album becomes a believe-it-when-you-see-it prospect. Throttlerod, seven years and one social media revolution removed from the release of their last full-length, 2009’s Pig Charmer (review here), were past that point. Still, they haven’t been completely inactive over that span, playing periodic shows near founding guitarist/vocalist Matt Whitehead‘s home-base in Richmond, Virginia, and apparently crafting enough material so that their fourth outing, Turncoat, clocks in at a considerable 55 minutes with 12 tracks. It’s long. CD long, in a vinyl time, but as ever for these cats, the songwriting holds up. Small Stone Records — which was also behind Pig Charmer, 2006’s Nail, the 2004 Starve the Dead EP and 2003’s Hell and High Water (their 2000 debut, Eastbound and Down, was on Underdogma) — is once again handling the release.
While that’s business as usual for Throttlerod, Turncoat still makes for a departure from their past methods in that instead of working with Andrew Schneider, who helmed all the outings listed above, the three-piece of Whitehead, bassist Jeremy Plaugher (who makes his first appearance here; Schneider also played on Pig Charmer) and drummer Kevin White enlisted J. Robbins to act as producer/engineer at his Magpie Cage Studio. Like a lot of bands, Throttlerod have been through lineup changes and this and that, but swapping producers after 15 years is huge, and Robbins — known for his work with Clutch, The Sword, Murder by Death, among many others, as well as for playing in Jawbox and other projects — makes a mark on this material in a way distinct from anything Throttlerod have done before.
Distinct, but not outlandishly removed from Pig Charmer. That in itself is something of a change as compared to, say, the sonic jump they made between Hell and High Water and Nail, which, with less than half the time between Pig Charmer and Turncoat, found Throttlerod revamping their sound from Southern heavy rock to angular noise drawing on influence from early and mid-’90s dissonance. Pig Charmer continued that thread, and Turncoat follows suit to an extent, but as opener “Bait Shop” shows in its chorus, the push comes with a heightened sense of melody as well. Whitehead‘s vocals, layered, are less shouted than sung, and as the two in the one-two punch, “Lazy Susan” answers in kind to “Bait Shop,” Throttlerod seem at least on some level to be reconciling their latter day approach with their beginnings, either consciously or not.
Granted, that melody comes off more post-grunge than Southern-inflected, but as they slow the roll on the early parts of the more brooding “Never was a Farmer,” those elements are easy enough to read into the proceedings, even if the context is different these years later. Rhythmic insistence comes back to the fore on “Lima,” with White propelling a middle-paced push as Whitehead squibbles out on guitar late, his vocals buried under the wall of his and Plaugher‘s tones. The title-track follows accompanied by “You Kicked My Ass at Losing,” and both songs tap into the more grunge-laden approach, the latter more raucously and of course with the best title on the record, which the chorus well earns, capping the first half of the record with a sudden stop and quick-fade cymbal ring-out. They have a long way to go, but Throttlerod are working efficiently and effectively, and for a band who’s been more or less absent for the last seven years, there’s little rust to be heard in this material.
Guitar scorches at the beginning of “Gainer,” an angular beginning opening to a more manageable verse and chorus en route to a finish that recalls once-labelmates Puny Human and that band’s frontman, Jim Starace, in whose memory Turncoat is dedicated and presumably not titled after. The subsequent “Every Giant,” “Cops and Robbers” and “Breadwinner” mostly tap into moods that the record showed earlier, but each has something about it to make one understand how it wound up in the final tracklisting, whether it’s the handclaps in “Breadwinner,” the what-if-Weezer-got-really-pissed-off aggro build in “Every Giant” or the frantic, jazzy bassline in the verse of “Cops and Robbers,” which brings to mind the melodic take on classic noise rock of Black Black Black without sounding directly akin.
Crashing and full-sounding, “I Know a Ship” offers one last landmark hook before closer and longest cut (at 6:29) “The Guard” finishes out with what starts as a more atmospheric take and then moves into chugging starts and stops — I’m tempted to call them Tool-esque, but to be fair, let’s make it pre-up-their-own-ass-Tool — that nonetheless drive as White does laps around his toms toward the finish of the record. Ultimately it’s hard to know how much of an effect Robbins‘ production might’ve had in bringing forward the melodic side of Throttlerod‘s approach — it’s not like there’s a version of the record tracked by someone else to do a side-by-side — but one way or another, the band have come back after seven years and made a record that is a definitive step forward from where they were their last time out. It might take a listen or two to sink in, but Throttlerod‘s Turncoat is one that only grows richer from there.