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Live Music Review

Live Review: Guerilla Toss at TV Eye

Raw, uninhibited chaos has always been a hallmark of the live experience for neo-psych noise pioneers Guerilla Toss, and their April 29 show at TV Eye was no exception. Their openers LLVX and Operator Music Band served as excellent primers for the audience with minimal ambient, jazzy grooves. But as soon as Guerilla Toss took to the stage, all bets were off. Frontwoman Kassie Carlson emerged with the rest of the band in tow, gently swaying from side to side with her hair flowing in the wind machine, awash in hallucinogenic fever-dream visuals that decorated the projector behind her.

The audience was immediately immersed and awestruck within the first three minutes of their set as Carlson led the band through the opening number, “Famously Alive,” a slow-building vocoder-laden track off their latest album of the same name. This was then followed by the slithering synth groove, “Cannibal Capital.” But the minute the band launched into their unhinged post-punk ode to aliens, “Betty Dreams of Green Men,” they blew the lid off the place. Carlson inched closer to the crowd and gave one of the audience members upfront a nudge and a shove as if to say, “Let the riotous moshing ensue!”

Specific highlights of the night were getting to hear Carlson’s doomsday cheerleader dance polemic “Meteorological” live, in addition to watching bassist Zach Lewellyn rock from side to side as he played like he was David Byrne doing the shaky knees in Stop Making Sense. The energy in the room was vibrantly positive as the band made their way through several of their beloved hits and deep cuts, the audience alternating between high-energy thrashing, friendly body-slamming, and belting their hearts out along with the band on songs like “Famously Alive,” “Wild Fantasy,” and their immediate, cacophonous cover of The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” that closed out their set.

So here’s the takeaway: If you go to a Guerilla Toss show, there are two guarantees. One: It doesn’t matter how many basement punk gigs you’ve been to; here you’re going to perspire like you never have before in your life. And two: if you’re upfront, the venue platform is low, and there is a mosh pit behind you, be prepared to get shoved onstage ass-backward… a lot. It’s a proper punk frenzy with schizophrenic disco synths and an overload of sleek bass grooves with wah-wah effects. And it’s heaven.


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Current Obsession: French Vanilla – “How Am I Not Myself?”

After being inside for 371 days and counting, something I’ve been incredibly grateful for is being able sit down and voraciously consume as much new music as humanly possible. And one of the most valuable discoveries I’ve made has to be the radical and forward-thinking Los Angeles queer art punk quartet, French Vanilla. CLRVNT has described French Vanilla as a group “that takes a dissonant, politically-minded approach to no wave that hearkens back to the genre’s glory days; think Bush Tetras after a weekend of binge-reading Audre Lorde and taking saxophone lessons.”

French Vanilla began making waves on the L.A. DIY punk scene when they released their self-titled debut album in 2017, and have since toured with the likes of Girlpool, ESG, and Cherry Glazerr.

French Vanilla’s sophomore album, How Am I Not Myself?, was released in 2019 and produced by Sean Cook, who also produced and engineered St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION. The album combines infectious guitar and sax leads with idiosyncratic rhythm sections and a radical political literacy that is not too dissimilar from their Washington, DC contemporaries, Priests. The group does a sublime job of combining jittery post punk vocal stylings and instrumentals a-la Essential Logic and Suburban Lawns, with politically-conscious writing and outrageous performance art similar to ’80s queercore artists like Vaginal Davis.

With the whirling vocals of frontwoman Sally Spitz, and playing that juggles the sonic energies of new wave and minimalist art punk, the band sounds like the love child of the B-52s, Le Tigre, and Bush Tetras. Combining a danceable, saxophone-laden groove with feminist nursery rhymes, How Am I Not Myself? both revels in absurdity and interrogates the heterosexist power structures in an oppressively patriarchal society.

The song “Bromosapien,” finds Spitz flaunting her signature caterwauling against Daniel Trautfield’s crisp saxophone leads, with lyrics that rail against misogynistic institutions that strip away the autonomy of young women and girls (“How do I know you are sexist?/Because you’re ego is so delicate”). The instrumentation on “Lost Power,” draws contagiously twangy leads from lead guitarist Ali Day, while Spitz unpacks the paranoia and sense of lost identity that comes with being in a visibly heteronormative relationship (“All night I think I’m sick/Losing color and I’m falling quick”).

“All the Time,” boasts bouncing, brassy instrumentals that stand in stark contrast to the serious lyrical subject matter. Spitz’s robotic vocal stylings hearken back to early DEVO records, while the lyrics find the song’s narrator fighting for self-actualization through the act of attempting to please others, whether it be potential lovers, friends, clients, or families (“Oh, I wanted you to see, you to see/Everything that we could be, we could be”).

On “Joan of Marc by Marc,” the band does their best Josef K impression with rapidly jangling instrumentals. The narrator of the song feels corrupted by their unrelenting libido as they find themselves in a tug-of-war between their attraction to men and women, while simultaneously struggling to fight off the heteronormative dogma that forces women into subordinate roles in heterosexual relationships (“I gag on the ordinary”).

Writing songs about the intersection of the personal and the political in a way that makes listeners want to burst out dancing is never an easy task. French Vanilla’s How Am I Not Myself strikes the perfect balance between seriousness and whimsical satire with relentless energy, textures, and bright color palettes.

Score: 8.5/10