Iowa’s Stars in Toledo present a diversely-appointed collection of hard rock rhythm and mighty melodic power balladry in their self-titled debut, which was released last April to a warm reception from fans and critics alike. Featuring heavy groove tracks like “A Peek Behind the Curtain,” “While We’re Waiting,” “Mavericks” and the stony “Get Me Right” just to name a few, Stars in Toledo is a record that has crossover appeal with both metalheads and rock n’ roll buffs thanks to its dexterous mixture of bass-soaked riffs and edgy percussive swing. The band shows off their ambitions in all twelve of these elegantly produced songs and displays a genuinely smart knack for generating stylish hooks inside of reckless rock carnage, and if this is only a sampling of what they’re capable of doing when there’s nothing holding them back in the studio, then they’ve likely got a very successful career ahead of them.
The soft rocking “Be Your Man,” rip-roar “Rnr 24 7 365” and sludgy “A Peek Behind the Curtain” have very little in common with each other stylistically, but they share a defined EQ that scoops all of the middle out of their tone to produce the most physical sound possible, even when consumed at moderate volumes. Stars in Toledo do a lot of muscle flexing on this record but, for the most part, they’re pretty careful about avoiding the hazards of creative excess. “Baby Banzai” flirts with surrealism in its airy chorus, but in comparison to “Hold on to Yesterday” or “Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore,” it’s actually one of the more restrained songs on the whole of the record. “While We’re Waiting” is a straightforward masterpiece, and it actually evens out the somewhat obscure indulgences that we find in “Without You Here” perfectly.
The vocals are the star of the show in “Take It to the Breakdown,” “Without You Here,” “Be Your Man” and “Mavericks,” but in the case of “99 Bottles,” “Rnr 24 7 365” and “A Peek Behind the Curtain,” the instrumentation (to be even more explicit, the string arrangements) are expressing the lion’s share of the narrative. Stars in Toledo is rife with hybridity, for better or worse, and though it’s a little all over the place in the complete tracklist, there’s a strong potential in each of these songs when we break them down on an individual basis. The best attribute this band has got going for them is their mammoth muscularity – a staple feature of this record – and I’m very eager to hear how they expand on it in future LPs.
Stars in Toledo utilize a litany of sonic weapons in the studio on this first offering and deliver a satisfying listening experience for anyone who appreciates a decadent slab of rock n’ roll rebellion. There’s no overdone pop polish, silly overdubbing or glaring Pro Tools edits in the master mix; from top to bottom, these Iowans cut us a firebrand LP divided into a dozen meticulously crafted movements that tell us a lot about their band and the creative spirit driving their music. It’s an exciting first look for sure, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what they do with it next.