Gargantuan grooves are just waiting to come alive as we enter Stars in Toledo’s eponymous debut album, and as we soon learn in the twelve tracks comprising its totality, there isn’t any stop that this Iowa-based band won’t pull out in their mission to engage us with their broad-shouldered musicality. “Take It to the Breakdown” gets us rolling with brute force only to clear some space for the ominous basslines and subtle pop rhythm of “Hold on to Yesterday,” the tenacious but tender melodicism of “Mavericks,” a bittersweet electric ballad in “Without You Here,” punkish stampedes of percussion and riff raucousness in “While We’re Waiting” and the stomp-beat of a freewheeling “Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore.” Stars in Toledodoesn’t slow down at the halfway point by any stretch of your imagination; though the second act gets started with the plaintive “Be Your Man,” chest-beating boisterousness is abound in “Get Me Right,” “99 Bottles,” and the consummate closer “A Peek Behind the Curtain.” While this is only the band’s first LP, it’s completely and verifiably devoid of the amateurishness that is so commonly found in a virgin studio effort.
There’s an 80’s metal vibe in “Get Me Right,” “Hold on to Yesterday,” “Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore” and “Rnr 24 7 365,” but I wouldn’t go as far as to call any of these songs “throwbacks” in nature. There are plenty of modern elements in the tracks, as well as in their more calculated brethren like “Mavericks,” “Be Your Man and “While We’re Waiting” to infect the album with a contemporary rock swing, but there’s definitely no arguing against the fact that Stars in Toledo are proudly wearing their influences on their sleeve in this record. The tonality in the guitars has a resonance that is straight out of the classic rock playbook, but the stylization of the riffs is alternative by design, skewing conventional rhythm with an agile, and unpredictable, approach to tempo. The poppy hooks in “Take It to the Breakdown,” “Hold on to Yesterday,” “Without You Here,” and to a lesser extent, “99 Bottles,” are as essential to the accessibility of this LP as the scattered uncaged solos are, and though it’s rare that I would say as much, this is actually an album that could attract as many casual rock fans as it does more serious students of the genre’s old school.
Though a little fragmented in construction and cosmetics, Stars in Toledo’s debut is a worthwhile listen for rockers who have been searching for a fresh sound to add to their favorite playlist this season. If there’s one thing that this band does better than most any other Midwestern melodic rock unit I’ve reviewed in the last year, it’s leave a big impression even in cursory listens of their latest work. Whether it be “99 Bottles,” “A Peek Behind the Curtain,” “Mavericks” or “Be Your Man,” this record is jam-packed with startlingly intimidating licks, riffs and lyrical lashings that make me really excited to hear more from this group as time goes by. They’re in the early stages of something really interesting, and this first attempt at rock n’ roll greatness is a formidable one indeed.
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