The Tontons, Golden EP
The whole practice-makes-perfect adage isn’t always true, at least not when it comes to music. There are plenty of bands out there that come out of the gate, guns blazing and with fire in their eyes, and then after they’ve made their name somewhat and it comes time to record the followup, they stumble and hit the pavement hard, never again quite matching that youthful, fuck-it-all energy. The cutout bins at secondhand record stores across the country are filled with Album #2 from Ultra-Hyped Band X, and often for good reason.
The Tontons, though, blow that whole thing out of the water. Every time they release something new, I cross my fingers and shut my eyes tightly, hoping against hope that they didn’t fumble this time out — they haven’t yet, so they’re due, right? I’m happy to say that no matter how nervous I get, the quartet pulls it off, every single time.
Brand-new EP Golden is no exception, coming off like something created by a gang of hardened, time-tested icons rather than the third-ever release by a band of relative youngsters. The Tontons seem to’ve exploded into being fully-formed and ready to blow minds, and each track they throw out there is like a confident, let’s-do-this step forward down some path to awesomeness that only they can fully comprehend right now.
They start off typically low-key and languid with “So Young,” a drifting bit of tropical sweetness complete with congas, swooning melodies, and Asli Omar’s sultry, breathy, too-wise-for-her-years voice, but the lolling haze is a bit of a ruse. Two-thirds of the way through, the band subtly turns up and starts to rock out, segueing so smoothly you don’t even realize what they’re doing ’til they’ve done it; then they hit you with a great, great brass section and some nicely woozy psych-rock guitars, and you’re left scratching your head and wondering what just happened.
A quick step sideways, and the band’s on into “Vietnam,” which belies its title with an Eastern European folk stomp that marches along jauntily ’til about two-thirds of the way through, when it revs up and turns into a twisted funhouse-mirror version of itself. When Omar sings, “You’re a liar,” it feels like a gentle reproof and statement of fact more than an accusation, but then things spiral out of control, the bright, garish lights of the carnival spinning and spinning so you don’t know which way’s up, and you’re left on the floor once again.
Title track “Golden” is an anomaly for the band, albeit a very welcome one. It’s more straight-up driving indie-rock than I’ve heard The Tontons do before now, and hot damn do they pull it off, managing to sound defiant and tough and vulnerable all at once, particularly when Omar declares, “You weren’t ever strong enough to break me down.” The song’s fiery and propulsive, with a vibe almost like A Weekend in the City-era Bloc Party in its simultaneously dark and danceable way.
The defiance can’t last, mind you, and on “Never Never,” Omar finally seems to break down, admitting that she can feel the heartbreak as the rest of the band sways back and forth beautifully. The song’s an old-school-style soul track, one that wouldn’t sound out of place on some “Soul of the ’60s” comp from your parents’ (grandparents’) record collection.
The Tontons tie things off with another departure, the jaunty, sly-smiling “Charlie,” which lilts along in an old-timey way as bassist Tom Nguyen steps delicately and guitarist Adam Martinez jangles and bounces on the banjo and mandolin. Despite the genteel manner, there’s an underlying threat to the song, a lurking darkness and rejection that warns that it truly is the end. (Of the relationship, that is, and thankfully not the band.)
I honestly don’t know where this band’s going to end up. Everything they touch seems to just magically work, in a way few musicians can ever accomplish, and if they can just hang in there and keep plugging away, they’re sure to be destined for…what? I have no idea, folks. Whatever it is, though, it’s going to be incredible.
(Feature photo by Mark C. Austin.)