Album Review: del-Toros – Ten Stories High

California’s visitors almost always leave with lasting impressions of the culture inhabiting the state. In the case of the del-Toros, you’ll find punk rock and surf music — two styles with a substantial footing in the Golden State. Forming in 2008 with the intention of playing only punk music, the del-Toros knack for writing albums with a 50/50 mix of vocal and instrumental material grants them leeway to explore and experiment with other styles to build on. The result is you don’t get the same record twice with these guys, a statement reinforced in their new release Ten Stories High. This is their most innovative album to date due to its versatility, fluidity and a different range of styles featured in the all instrumental music.

Why the change? Guido Bruin (guitars) explains:

A couple of years ago we decided we would go for a full instrumental set, so we started writing songs with a different mindset. You’re not restricted to classic song forms like verse chorus, verse, etc. and the guitar takes over the vocals and tells a story more or less. There’s a lot more freedom in writing. If the record sounds different, that is why.

With their preceding Surfvival of the Rockest album, the three showed a sign of things on their horizon with compositions in the experimental and psychedelic genres played at various tempos alongside their surf rock sound. Ten Stories High progresses the trio into new territories with the exploration of spoken word and jazz segments in the ten tracks. It’s an evolution for these three, a long cry from their initial surf punk sound to a spot nestled between a surrealist B-movie soundtrack and The Desert Sessions I & II.

The production work on this record brings Bruin playing the dual role of producer/player, something his production partner, Peter Van Elderen (Peter Pan Speedrock) knows about having done it himself a few times. Having marked his third project alongside with Bruin, Van Elderen comments on his development:

With this being our third project together, I picked up on his development. He’s learning the tricks of the trade, but he didn’t want to produce this one solo yet. Having juggled the role as both player and producer myself, it can be stressful.

From start to finish, Ten Stories High plays out like the score to a lowbrow cult film based in Southern California with each song composed around to a specific scene’s environment. “Loose Lips” psychedelic tinge gears towards sprawling desert scenery with its desert rock aesthetics brought on by Bruin’s reverb heavy arpeggios paralleling the likes of Gary Arce’s (Yawning Man) stylings. Their trademark alt-surf vibe lives on and is most present in the leadoff tracks “Octowave,” “Don’t Wipe,” and the rhythmic “Socal Killings.” The three turn into a space rock band for a hot second with the extensive wah effect use, heavy, pulsating basslines from Sicco Roukema (bassist), and the Latin percussion work of Marco Toro alongside del-Toros drummer, Tony Gaarthuis, throughout the lengthy “End of the World.” Scenery of a dystopian metropolis projects in the mind’s eye with their cyber-punk rendition of Simple Mind’s “Themes for Great Cities.” The only vocals belong to scattered movie samples throughout the track, and a heavy rock meets beatnik spoken word on “King of the Rockettool” courtesy of renowned Dutch garage rocker, Peter te Bos (Claw Boys Claw).

This record exemplifies their competitive edge, and the del-Toros keep growing to the point of being an outlier in a heavy rock niche where the same sound is often re-hashed. Check out Ten Stories High via their Bandcamp.

– Review by Matthew Hutchison

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