The Tontons, Make Out King and Other Stories of Love
It’s taken me a good long while to write this review. And until now, I wasn’t really sure why; after all, there are very few albums I’ve been more excited to hear than The Tontons’ long-awaited full-length, Make Out King and Other Stories of Love. So when I finally had a chance to check it out, I grabbed it, and listened, and…was left confused, somewhat.
I think, though, that I’ve got it now. See, what threw me off was that The Tontons of years past had been a band I’d thought of as a rock band, at the end of the day, in part because I’ve seen them live more than a lot of other bands, and live they definitely are a rock band, exploding out onto the stage like a fireball. So when they released Make Out King, I’d expected to hear, well, more of the same, I guess.
And while this album is great, don’t get me wrong — it’s stellar, seriously — “more of the same” it definitely is not. More than anything else I’ve heard from these folks so far, Make Out King is a lounge album; more specifically, it’s a late-night lounge album, the kind of sultry, seductive music that brings to mind darkened corners in swanky nightspots, furtive assignations, and sly smiles.
In fact, it almost comes off like an album that’s all about one single night, the songs hanging so tightly together that I occasionally have trouble keeping some of the songs straight. Honestly, I’m okay with that in this case, especially since the end result is like listening to the thoughts of a young, unsure-about-the-world woman out on her own after dark and exploring the city.
Okay, I’ll admit that it sounds like a stretch, even to me, but I can’t help it. From the sweet yearning of “Magic Hour” on through the tropical-sounding “So Tired” and turbulent, murky “Kidd Cemetery” and onto the fragile chunk of regret that is “Ruins,” every time I listen to Make Out King, I feel like I’m watching some first-person indie flick about love, loss, ambition, age, and purpose that starts at sundown and ends when the first rays break back over the horizon.
Of course, even if you don’t get the concept-album vibe I do, the album’s damn fine taken as a straightforward slate of songs, too. The bubbly-sounding “Pony” is sultry and seductively awesome, seemingly in constant motion beneath the surface, while “Veida” rides a delicate samba rhythm but has some of the meatiest guitar lines on the whole album at the same time.
Then there’s the dyad of “Bones 1” and “Bones 2.” The former is rough-edged and rowdy, with frontwoman/singer Asli Omar declaring that “one of these days,” she’ll settle down, but hinting pretty pointedly that it’ll be no time soon (which, fellow Tontons fans, is a good thing for us). The latter, on the other hand, is almost literally the flipside of the other “Bones” track, where Omar’s taking a step back to look at her life and wondering how she can balance the need to Grow Up and do all the adult stuff with the need to actually enjoy life.
It’s a slow, deliberate waltz, beautiful and gospel-tinged, and it uses a great, great organ sound to wonderful effect. In between sits “Lonely,” simultaneously ethereal and epic, with utterly gorgeous layers of sound (and is that a theremin I’m hearing at the end?).
Throughout, the undeniably talented musicians in the band — guitarist Adam Martinez, drummer Justin Martinez, and bassist Tom Nguyen — seem to take a collective step back, reigning themselves in more than they have on past releases in order to let the spotlight focus more on Omar’s smoky, soulful, Billie Holiday-esque voice. They don’t cut loose as often as I’ve heard them do previously, having matured over these past several years into their own majestic, lush, heady sound.
And then, the morning comes, as it always does, throwing the world into stark relief, and it’s time to make that long walk back home to the Real World, looking backwards wistfully all the while towards the night that was.
(Feature photo by Phil Knott.)