Strands of feedback and acrylic white noise come slipping through the cracks of silence like transmissions from outer space as we descend upon “Take It to the Breakdown,” the opening track of Stars in Toledo’s eponymous debut album, which was first released last April. A funky guitar riff finds its way into the fold and clears some space for a sizzling vocal to wrap around us tightly in the hooky chorus. The swaggering string dueling primes us for the pulsating percussion that will light the fuse on “Hold on to Yesterday,” which takes a minute to warm up, but once it’s hot and ready, is uncontrollable (even by the band themselves) and ethereally heavy. A poppy groove captures our hearts in “Mavericks,” but if you though that Stars in Toledo were going to spill all of their best stuff out in quarter one of their debut, you’d better think again.
“Without You Here” slams its fists against the invisible wall between artist and audience and shatters the barrier instantly, allowing its lush melodies to enter our airspace and color everything in a somber blue hue. “While We’re Waiting” gets back onto the freewheeling freedom run that “Mavericks” left us off with, but it doesn’t minimize the emotive narrative of the preceding track at all. Though they get a little down and dirty in the bluesy-sway of “Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore,” Stars in Toledo show off a more sensitive side in “Be Your Man” that, while briefly changing the mood of the album’s middle section, might be their most inspired work here.
“Rnr 24 7 365” plays out like a sonic smackdown in slow motion; the bass chases after the jittery guitars, with the drums refereeing the melee that ensues and continues on in the much more melodic “Get Me Right.” “Get Me Right” feels like it was designed for the mainstream radio crowd, but it doesn’t sell us short on substance as a result. Stars in Toledo don’t waste our time with any pandering to the major label scouts on their first album; actually, songs like this one and the sexy “Baby Banzai” kind of flip the bird at the rock n’ roll establishment with their fusion of alternative stylization and menacing heavy metal melodies. There’s no need to copy someone else’s methods here; this band has got their own way of doing business, and for my money, it’s one of the more provocative and tuneful means in or out of their insular scene.
“99 Bottles” discharges a blistering guitar and bass volley that will put anyone into a dizzy spell if played at a high volume, and as we reach the conclusion of Stars in Toledo, we also reach the climax of the record in the Desert Rock-inspired thump of “A Peek Behind the Curtain.” The first time that I heard this album, as much as I enjoyed the eleven songs that come before the closer, this was the track that I found myself listening to on repeat in the days that followed. It’s a window into the soul of wild animal growing into an unstoppable beast, and more than enough to justify my putting this group at the top of my hard rock watch-list this year.