It's been quite a year for Torche frontman Steve Brooks. After a 7 year hiatus, he reformed his iconic sludge band Floor in order to celebrate "Below & Beyond:" an insanely comprehensive 10 Lp /8CD /1 45 box set. Floor, who were lucky to get 100 people to watch them in their prime, found themselves playing at Austin's fun fun fun fest in front of thousands.
In May, Brooks and his bandmates in Torche were the victims of a post-show robbery outside of the Congress Theater in Chicago. Torche lost two guitars, and enough gear to force them to miss a Canadian leg of their tour with Coheed & Cambria. Adding further to Torche's 2010's Spinal Tappery was a brief forced exile in the UK thanks to a lost passport.
On the bright side, Torche made their US television debut on Fox News' Redeye program, which somehow emboldened family values ex-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee into singing Torche's gay heavy metal praises to a red state audience.
But while 2010 had more ups and downs for Brooks than a manic depressive on a carnival ride, the sonic pinnacle of 2010 in both Miami music and his career was Torche's mini-album: Songs For Singles. Clocking in at just over 21 minutes, the 8 song disc puts Brooks' bomb string madness in the background and instead focuses on his love of 80s and early 90s shoegaze, run through a punk rock filter. If you turned the volume down a little, and took away "Lay Low," a 1-minute metal wonder that boxes your ears in like Marvin Hagler - and "Hideaway" which reminds me of the fabulous moment in time when Helmet and Jawbox did their best to sound like each other - the rest of the record is so pop friendly that it would have easily fit in on the 4AD label.
Even the most dedicated Floor/Torche fans are probably unaware of Brooks and Floor mate Anthony Vialon's side project, The Basils- who lasted for just a few shows in the mid 1990s. The Basils were shockingly tuneful compared to Floor, who at the time were doing their best to sound like an elephant stampede. But in retrospect, The Basils were Brooks' coming out party as a lover of melody. It snuck in Floor's amazing 2002 self-titled album, the push and pull between impossibly heavy and insanely catchy making it an instant classic.
And to be certain, it is Brooks' gift for melody that separates Torche from the doom herd. Because although Brooks does "heavy" better than anyone not named King Buzzo - any talented grizzly bear with decent taste can drop the top string and make a stab at doom metal. It takes real fortitude to make pop music for people who will hate you for not bashing them with brute force.