Local garage-rock luminaries Turbo Fruits have done a lot over the past three years. Frontman Jonas Stein revamped the band's lineup, adding former Tits rhythm section Dave McCowen and Matt Hearn, plus guitarist Kingsley Brock. They crisscrossed the nation a dozen times over on tour. Stein launched the two-years-and-counting punk-rock-at-sea festival The Bruise Cruise. Earlier this year, the Fruits inked a deal with Kings of Leon's Serpents and Snakes label. One thing the Music City quartet hasn't done in three years, however, is release a full-length follow-up to 2009's epic stoner-punk lifestyle statement Echo Kid.
This week the band drops its third LP, Butter — an all-killer offering of rip-roarin' rock 'n' roll and '60s throwback pop that not only makes the wait worth it, but shows the growing chemistry and evolution of the band's laboriously honed chops on the road and in the shed.
"I think we've really stepped it up for this record," Stein told the Scene in April. "It's a dynamic record — every song doesn't sound the same. We slowed it down on some of the stuff, or made some stuff a little more poppy, and it still has some heavy riffage in there."
Indeed it does. If music trends have shifted since 2009, Stein and his loyal soldiers of rock haven't bothered to notice or care. If you long to return to a world before EDM — the sound of 56K dial-up modems mashed up with "Final Countdown"-esque melodies and erroneously mistaken for music — reigned supreme, Butter will take you there.
Here the Fruits serve up 11 tightly executed tracks of traditional rock 'n' roll and reverb-cast power punk, complete with big, bombastic beats, glorious guitarmonies, mod-like melodies and Townshend-patented power-chord bursts that ring out to the call of Stein's smooth-tongued, Fonzie-worthy-cool vocal delivery. And they do it really fucking well. Especially on rocked-out selections like "Don't Like To Fight," which, with its menacing riffs and stabby six-string squeals, sounds more like a switchblade gang's cutting cutting anthem than a declaration of pacifism. Or the dreamy psychedelic scuzz of "Gamble Tamble," or the groovy Western surf-rocker "Colt 45," a good companion piece to the Space Age-y camp of sock-hop-ready album closer "Ain't the Only One Havin' Fun," a song that sounds like a rockin' musical montage of debauched roadhouse carnage. Or on "Where the Stars Don't Shine," the driving, Texas-sized boogie that opens the album. Texas-sized, appropriately enough, as that's where the band recorded Butter with producer and Spoon drummer Jim Eno — in his Austin studio, Public Hi-Fi.
"We wanted to make a record with someone who'd been playing in successful rock 'n' roll bands for a while," Stein says of the decision to tap Eno, putting pause to a long-standing partnership with local-rock producer extraordinaire, Battle Tapes honcho Jeremy Ferguson, who had also helmed records by Stein's old band, Be Your Own Pet. "I was very torn because I always make records with Jeremy — one of my favorite people to record with."
Butter's production is straightforward and frill-free, with no florid overdubs obstructing or adorning big, buzzing guitars, bass, drums and vocals. Nevertheless, the album's performances and a dynamic handful of its songs might surprise fans familiar with Turbo Fruits' chaotic live shows. It's when Stein & Co. dial down the raucous assault of guitars and let the album's catchiest hooks take center stage that they really shine on Butter. Cases in point include the benevolent leadoff single "Harley Dollar Bill$," a two-wheel love letter that is to motorcycles what Queen's "Bicycle" is to bicycles. As a songwriter, Stein shows his true tenderness (and vocal range) on the back-end ballad "Gotta Get Along," a mournful, soulful high-school-dance-ready ballad.
While many of Stein's obvious influences are of the pre-Vietnam rock 'n' roll variety (See also: Joe Strummer), there is one prevalent, post-20th century outfit woven throughout some of Butter's best gems: The Strokes. Album standouts like the yearning and infectious "Sweet Thang" and the decidedly saccharine pop ditty "She Said Hello" recall Julian Casablancas & Co.'s economical speaker-peaking garage-rock take on '60s and '70s pop, and justify the comparison with hooks that are every bit as infectious as "New York City Cops."
Turbo Fruits yield Butter with a release show tonight at Exit/In. Ranch Ghost, King Karl and Fox Fun open.
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