Cleveland Lo-Fi Band Total Downer Release Frantic New EP
Last year, we fell in love with Cleveland-based band Total Downer, not necessarily because they bring us energetic garage-rock fuzz, but because they’re comprised of a couple good friends joining souls and jamming together. It’s sweet, and it’s important, and what it results in is just the cherry on top.
Back in August, we scored the exclusive premiere of Total Downer’s debut EP, Live! From My Computer, which featured three super-quick tunes we had on repeat. Just nine months later, the band have transformed. They’ve matured. On their newest EP, Keep On Riding That Dirt Bike, every single element of Total Downer has been nurtured. Where Live! From My Computer was drowning in the fuzz and fog of lo-fi production, Keep On Riding That Dirt Bike exists in a soundscape that spotlights every sound clearly. Where the former shook and spiraled in a frenzy of chaos, the latter shakes and spirals in a way that’s significantly more contained. It’s all thoughtful. Careful.
Keep On Riding That Dirt Bike kicks off with “Boys Of Summer,” a thrumming garage-rock effort that warbles with surf-rock riffs and shimmering percussion before devolving into an exciting instrumental smash of Total Downer at their best — wild and raging, wailing and rocking — then returning to a steady, if not slightly anxious, rhythm line, then back yet again. On “Bright Lights (Late Shift),” we get a fleeting taste of power-pop hearkening back to the dreamy, achy indie of the 90s. There’s less singing and more matter-of-fact delivery, like a narration, spit fast over a relentless bed of punchy rock.
The standout moment of Keep On Riding That Dirt Bike is “Nikki,” remarkable from start to finish and fit with twists and turns. Here’s the thing about “Nikki” — it’s only three and a half minutes long but it feels ages longer because it’s a journey that moves through waves of sound and layers of texture and tiers of new sonic details that come running out of the woodwork to dash their magic on the song before leaving once again. Built on sharp, steady strums, an opening trill becomes a smash of percussion becomes a tender bass twang becomes a quiet pause, all while a voice equal parts desperate and gentle delivers line after line of poignant, brutally honest reflection. There’s a moment of spoken-word reverie uttered over a stunning stripped-back arrangement that turns “Nikki” from an already A+ track to a devastating example of post-rock poetry. The very end is a suckerpunch — over half a minute of in-your-face atonement sent spiraling.
Far too soon, Keep On Riding That Dirt Bike ends with “Everything Is Gonna Be Fine,” a hopeful and anthemic effort. Total Downer do enough to convince us of its title in a farcical, frenzied sort of way — the instrumentation is as upbeat as it’s been, there’s a clamoring choir moment, there’s that howled hook — but, frankly, we know enough about Total Downer now to be a little wary. It’s a comforting conclusion to an EP rich with raw reflection and bittersweet (emphasis on bitter) confession, each moment of lyrical profundity wrapped in impressive explosions of sound that find the band coming into their very own with raging garage-rock soundscapes we want more and more and more of.