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Album of the Month: Guerilla Toss - Famously Alive

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To put things broadly: we’ve all lived a roller coaster kind of life recently. With all our own personal struggles, plus the big one we’ve all shared, it’s been a time, to say the least. The New York-via-Boston band Guerilla Toss has dealt with their own set of circumstances, with their constant touring brought to a halt due to the pandemic, and vocalist Kassie Carlson’s recovery from opiate addiction. In a time of turbulence and reconstruction, the band have pointed themselves firmly in the direction of positivity, with the kaleidoscopic psychedelic pop of their latest album, Famously Alive.

Guerilla Toss have always operated with a certain degree of chaos in tow, but have also been on a long trajectory of peeling the layers of noise back to reveal a brighter, more colorful interior. On their latest work, that long journey has reached a destination, with their early no-wave frenzy traded in for a technicolor world of new-wave inspired sounds, their most accessible music yet. Even with the jagged edges smoothed out, their sound, crafted instrumentally by guitarist Arian Shafiee and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Peter Negroponte, is still unmistakably GToss, with lots of twists, turns, squelches and squeaks along the way. The album’s thesis can be easily identified in its title track, a peppy, joyful ode to existence, twisting the notion of “fame” into an affirmative desire to live vibrantly. Or, alternatively, to “Live Exponential,” as the following track suggests. A little thread of anxiety still runs through the record, showing that any path of recovery is always a work in progress. The album’s opener “Cannibal Capital” details the emotional energy sink of negative social exchange, and “I Got Spirit” focuses on the futility of the chase, whether it be for vices or success, staving it off with the song’s titular refrain. I think this track in particular is one where the record’s 80s inspirations really shine, with squiggly synths, echoed guitars, and tight rhythm section grooves on full display.

In hard times, a full court press approach on good attitudes can be a gamble, the cynical among us decrying it as artificial or unconvincing. To that end, I believe in this case, in this time, the power of positive thinking really is the winner. Famously Alive is a celebration of life in the most literal sense, a proclamation of the wonder of persistence, not just surviving but thriving through hardships, trials, and roadblocks. At the risk of sounding corny, I think that that little spark of joy is something we could all use every once in a while; with any luck, it could always be enough to light that flame of life in you, too.

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Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.