[13 January 2014]
Harsh Toke is the musical equivalent of its own band name: choking and overwhelming, all rough edges and suffocation, yet with an after effect of lightheadedness and euphoria that keeps you coming back for more. Like their spiritual brethren in Earthless and Endless Boogie, Harsh Toke is a band that just wants to kick out the jams, motherfuckers, and keep on doing that until they collapse—or everyone else in the room does. What makes them rather more interesting than any number of other long-form stoner-jam bands is the variety of sounds they incorporate into the mix, starting with the keyboard layers of frontman Gabe Messer, extending into the siren howls and flute meanderings of the 14-minute-plus epic “Weight of the Sun” and finally culminating in the banshee saxophone wails of album closer “Plug In to the Moon”. That song, which is reminiscent of The Stooges’ Fun House closer “LA Blues”, is a fitting way indeed to end the proceedings here. Make no mistake, though: it is the slashing, effects-laden guitar work of Justin Figueroa that is front and center here. With just four vocal-free tunes clocking in at close to 40 minutes, there are all sorts of ways this project could have gone pear-shaped; the fact that it’s a triumph instead is testament to the band’s relentless creativity, not to mention their flawless nose for a killer groove. Hey, maybe that toke wasn’t so harsh after all.