Album Review: Topless

Spirit Bomb 11
Self Released

“Only eat with the people that you starve with/Only run with the people you walk with,” spits vocalist Zach Barlow over the title track on Topless’s latest album, Spirit Bomb II. Just writing their influences does little to convey just what this band sounds like. On the surface, it’s can easily be mistaken for a typical rap-rock hybrid on the spectrum of Rage Against the Machine or Check Your Head-era Beastie Boys, but the comparisons start to fall apart when the guitar kicks in.
Though relatively strong, Topless’s riffs lack the muscle of Tom Morello’s spaced out chug, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Guitarist Mark Broyles creates atmospheric lines across tracks like “Vagabond” and “Hey Boo” that dig out some more space from the white-knuckled grip of drummer Even Feller. Rounded out with aggressive bass playing from Nate Matthew, Spirit Bomb II plays like a mash-up of all kinds of late 90s and early 00s hip-hop rock bands. Barlow’s rhyme scheme and flow echoes the short lines of early Beastie Boys more than the vitriol soaked anger of Zach de la Rocha, but becomes it’s own beast after the songs pick up. The energy of the band is what defines the album here, especially on the clear high light “Baby Steps”.
“Dream big, fuck a baby step” calls Barlow with ever ounce of conviction he can muster, and you can’t help but feel like he means it. Lyrically, Barlow borrows from similar groups like the Dirty Heads and Sublime and twist it into personal lines about perseverance, growth and girls. Content aside, his delivery can be occasionally clumsy, but just when it sounds like it’s coming off the rails, Matthew and Feller bring back the groove and tie it back up. This pull and push works to make initial listens extremely compelling, as the fist-pumping “Peaceful Warrior” showcases at the end of the album. It even ends with the spoken word-dropout a la “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine. It sounds urgent and intense, despite fighting some very dry production.
About the only thing really keeping this from sounding like the bomb its name implies is the production. The drums sound very dry and sparse, while the guitars feel like they could riff just a little harder and the bass could be compressed just a little more. With music that’s this aggressively delivered, it seems to beg for a more modern touch. It’s a great set of songs that are extremely high energy, and one that deserves a better passover in the studio to dial it in to something really special.
–Charlie Walentiny