With his electric guitar front and centre, Jonah Tolchin’s new album reaches back into his alt-rock past.
‘Lava Lamp’ is Tolchin’s fifth studio album and marks something of a departure from the rootsy, bluesy feel of his previous work. As he says himself, “I was a pretty rebellious kid, and I mostly listened to alternative rock and hip hop and punk growing up. Somewhere along the way, though, I feel like I lost that part of myself. These songs are my way of reclaiming it.”
The album is co-produced with multi-instrumentalist/engineer Nic Coolidge, who also plays bass on all of the songs. Along with Tolchin’s long-time friend and collaborator Kevin Clifford on drums, Coolidge and Tolchin are the only musicians on the album. “We recorded most of it, even my vocals, live on the floor as a band, just feeding off each other’s energy.”
It’s certainly contributed to a loose, raw, joyous energy in the playing, with the three musicians demonstrating their considerable talents across a wide range of styles. Coolidge and Clifford pair up to provide a superb rhythm section that moves from sinewy, funk-infused country rock to flat-out grungy stomp. Tolchin’s guitar work is more than a match for his talented bandmates, with some evocative use of retro guitar effects, mixing flangers, 90’s era chorus and wah-wah pedals with stacks of deliciously heavy fuzz tones to light up the songs.
With so much good stuff going on, it’s just a shame that the songs themselves don’t quite match the power of the music and the playing. Sure, there are some good songs on here (‘Black Hole’, ‘Lava Lamp’ and ‘Bridge’ for example) but others don’t quite hit the same level and veer at times into quirkiness. The two covers, ‘Car You Drive’ by Josh Flowers and Tom Petty’s ‘Grew Up Fast’, are both nicely done but remain relatively faithful to the originals.
This album sees Tolchin adding grungy alt.rock to his more usual folk/American style. Despite its many strengths, it feels a little bit like a transitional album but it still shows him as being a very talented musician. If this is the territory he’s going to return to in the future, with a little more focus, he seems more than capable of doing truly great things.