We’re here to talk about Oblation, the new album from the newly reunited pre-Torche band Floor, but here’s an important preliminary question: Do you treat music as a mood enabler or as a mood enhancer? That is, do you listen to music because of the way it reflects your current mood, or because of how it can put you in a certain mood?
It’s a chicken and egg thing, sure, but how ‘bout this: Do you listen to 40 Watt Sun because you feel miserable and forlorn, or do you listen to 40 Watt Sun to feel miserable and forlorn? Do you listen to Iron Maiden because you want to feel like a world-conquering hero, or because you already are a world-conquering hero? To me, that’s an interesting question on its own, but I’m not just jawing uselessly here. It’s a relevant question to the conversation about Floor’s new album, precisely because Oblation just might be a wild success if you’re one kind of listener, but it’s more likely to be a rather dismal letdown if you’re another sort.
Of course, for better or worse, in most any discussion of Floor, Torche is the elephant in the room, the unavoidable relative, drunk and ranting about furr’ners and/or crying into your mulled wine. But you see, here’s why I bring it up: Torche was the sort of band that could magically transform my mood. Using that most old-fashioned of tools – the sheer audacity of sky-high hooks – Torche could lift my spirits up to a place of metallic pop ecstasy, no matter the mopery I’d subjected myself to. With Floor, though, I’ve gotta already be in that space, since they can’t budge the needle for me.
Torche is, at its best, a marriage of riff-thunder and hook-lightning. On Oblation, that lightning is reduced to a flicker of fluorescent lights, and the thunder to a freight car doggedly prowling the tracks in some half-imagined distance. The sugary sludge of Torche is still here, but Floor douses it in tar, making the end product a hell of a lot heavier and a hell of a lot more sluggish. Nearly all the songs on Oblation bleed easily into one another, turning what should be a joyful noise into a timid dirge. The outliers, naturally, are the standouts, like the album closer “Forever Still,” or “Homegoings and Transitions,” which goes syrup slow but hits a more affecting note (even though its verse does remind one of Beck’s “Loser”). “Sign of Aeth” also does a heck of a job hitting just the right note of self-elegiac pining.
Interesting empirical question: It was never super-cool to be into Torche, but now that we’re faced with a new reunion album from the older band that it was always savvier to claim to prefer over Torche, there’s an opportunity to weight the presumably mutually exclusive options of ironic detachment from popular preferences. To make my own allegiances plain: I’d much rather be listening to Torche, or even to the last few middling Kylesa records. Or, to be more present-minded: I’d rather listen to the stellar new albums from Hark and Helms Alee.
But can we have some real talk? Floor doesn’t care about that. These are heavy tunes that crunch and moan with the sick-sweet lament of bummer grunge, and in that way, it’s pretty alright. It just feels, more often than not, that I’m left gazing wistfully out the rearview instead of fixedly at the yellow hashmarks rocketing down the pike, hurtling with abandon toward an avowedly better tomorrow. Torche always sounded humbly onanistic, as if constantly tickled and surprised by the righteousness of their own jams; Floor’s grin feels like a well-rehearsed put-on, just as likely to dissolve into a pained world-weariness.
Still, I wouldn’t quite write this off for dead. Best to acknowledge it for what it is, and what it can do, and thus to keep it on deck for those days when the sun and the sky and the salt-warm breeze through the trees turn your mood, improbably yet irresistibly, to hope.