Review by Sealab Tucker
Album art by Matt Kroeger, Photo by Nikki Acosta
A dead ringer for a punch in the mouth, this sophomoric album — Golden Kings — from Tracksuit Lyfestile, is not for the faint of heart. Upon first glance, you might feel intimidated by the 20 tracks timing in at just under 90 minutes, but don’t worry; this is a 90 minutes rollercoaster ride that’s meant to jack up your spirit and shake your soul. This album has everything you need to make your listening experience pleasurable and uplifting. It has a wailing trombone, smooth and velvety bass lines, thick and punchy drum hits, crunchy and satisfying guitar riffs, and a wall of nearly hypnotic sounds from The Box. Instrumental rock lends itself to having a cult following, and there is often little to no vocals in the music. But if you take a look, you’ll see many artists and bands over the years have done very good work in this genre. Guitarists like Steve Vai and Jeff Beck have put out amazing instrumental albums, and bands such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Animals as Leaders have a catalog of albums dedicated to instrumental rock. Tracksuit Lyfestile does a phenomenal job at creating an intense feeling within their music, and it’s difficult to listen to without imagining yourself diving headlong into battle without this album as your soundtrack.
The one thing about this album that sticks out so much from their first album, E=mc Hammered , is how much more clarity there is in each track. The notes are right where they’re supposed to be, and the sounds aren’t bound to an entire wall crashing over your head. Each instrument is its own island, making it easy to pick out of a song to be focused on by itself. I was so excited to hear at the beginning of the album’s opening piece, “Swim to the Sun,” as it draws similarities to Black Sabbath’s opening from their debut self-titled album, Black Sabbath, with a rainstorm and bells. “Swim to the Sun,” does what all opening tracks need to do so well in that it sets the tone for the rest of the abum. This genesis puts you in the mind of a young man standing in front of his best friend’s house as the u-haul drives away, leaving behind a shell of time and memories. It opens up with a proclamation, dives into a gutty timescape of years past, explodes throughout with feelings of a lump in your throat brought to life with Eugene Picklebottom’s screeching guitars and harrowing sounds from The Box manned by Rufus. Finally, this song lays it all down to rest with a feeling of accomplishment and apprehension. This chapter is done, and it’s been a great ride so far. We don’t know what’s happening next, but surely it has only just begun.
The next two tracks, “Another Fine Mess,” and “Galloheart,” again add to the very uplifting theme that is this album. In both, we hear a reconstitution of flight from The Box and the bass guitar played by Rufus and Skeevy Mike respectively. Two distinct sounds: one giving you the air beneath your wings and the other keeping you in line to your destination, keeps Golden Kings from falling off the rails too quickly. This allows our energy to dive into the album’s next two tracks; a remix of “Hurricane,” from their first album and a new to you, “Diabolical Wombat,” both featuring keys from Mr. Brian Barbour. Mr. Barbour gives us a lot of needed feelings with his addiction of the keys in these songs, so much so that he appears a few more times throughout the album. This is good, as the sounds this man makes are addicting and soulful. As we traverse into the near middle of this album, drummer Hank Morestasch initiates an military-like march to pound us through to victory. We’re not quite finished yet, and he lets us known with his punishing drives in “Handheld Lasagna,” where the waning sounds can be heard
again and pushes us into a remix of a song we’ll hear later on in this album. “M@rilyn Monroe Twitter Handle (I Am the Liquor Mix)” is the first song we hear featuring Indy’s very own Mark Ortwein on the saxophone. Such a light and airy song this is, perfect for getting us to move our bodies all around to shake out the kinks we’ve developed as we’ve sat through seven tracks so far. Both the sax and the trombone make this song very ethnic and therapeutic. They cut through the thick air like a knife into the very middle of your spirit, giving you permission to relax as we continue forward with our journey.
The next two tracks start to become a little familiar as we are able to point out the individual instruments more clearly. There seems to be a spot for everything to come out and show us what they’re capable of doing in these songs. The musicianship is honestly so important for us right now, as we’re just about to hit the dead center of this album, and as we’re starting to get a little sleepy. The boys do us a favor by letting us hear Mr. Barbour again for their remix of “A Vigorous Joe Pesci,” an original from their first album. After we’ve stood up and stretched, we jump right into a cup of coffee with “Golden Kings,” a song perfect for getting out of that mid-day rut. We get back to a lot of that crunchy guitar riffage we heard at the beginning of this campaign. If that’s the much needed caffeine we needed, then “Whyte Wyng Tiger” is our legs hitting the ground furiously, as we run through the brush onward to victory. The snare hits are so poppy and in your face and the bass chugs along, it’s truly difficult not to bang your head here and roll up your sleeves.
“Hungry Ghost” introduces Mr. Ortwein to use again with his brilliant sax playing. This song gives us everything we want, everything we need, and everything we didn’t even know we were allowed to have all in five minutes and thirty seconds. There’s 80’s synth, tasty bass lines, an ebbing guitar solo, and the horns are just perfect. The sounds we hear in “Hungry Ghost,” reminds me a lot of a scorching hot day being cooled off by the rain. It makes for a great evening, your garden gets watered, and you’re able to enjoy the yourself as the clouds roll past opening up to the moon and stars. We’re given an extra special treat in that we get to hear the boys play with both Mr. Ortwein and Mr. Barbour in “Nocturnal.” It certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve deserved this, but everyone comes together to make one beautiful piece. Everything is infectious as it blends together so well the elements of jazz, fusion, and experimental. The back end of Golden Kings contains a few mixes of songs we’ve heard before like “Diabolical Wombat,” and “Lunar Lounge,” “No Fly Zone,” and “A Vigorous Joe Pesci,” the last three coming from their first album. Mr. Barbour does contribute to some of these mixes, but I’m feeling selfish in that I wanted to hear new material. And while certainly these pieces do contain an element of “newness,” leaving a few of these off would have shortened the album a bit to make sure it didn’t drag too much. While this might make any other album lag off into a forgettable box in your storage shed, the boys pull it all together with two more new to you’s with
“Fat Boy Ain’t Going Upstairs,” and the original “M@rilyn Monroe Twitter Handle,” just to remind us that they can still do what they do best; and that’s adding more elements from other styles into their original sound. Heavy metal, double bass drum kicks and EDM sounds from another dimension, all with horns incorporated? They make it work, and it’s absolutely what we needed to get through the day.
But now you’re home after a long eight hours of working, and jamming, and putting up with traffic, opening the mail to see a box stuffed with bills. What can we do to make sure this day doesn’t spoil into a sour evening? Well good for you, these fellas have it covered. Grab yourself an ice cold Hamm’s out of the fridge in the garage, and crank up the last song, “9th Day of a 7 Day Bender,” and you’ll hear Eugene Picklebottom giving us his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” that would make Jimi Hendrix proud. Do you feel better now? I know I do. I feel as refreshed and as patriotic as I ever have. Same as it ever was. You’d expect a reasonably good performance from any group, but these guys really blow me away with how dedicated they are to the sound they want to make. It’s a testament to their goals as individual musicians, and as an entire band.