You ever have one of those nights where you find yourself at a rock show and you don’t know what you’re doing there? A few months ago, there was a show in my town that I’d been excited about for months — two bands I love, playing a small town that doesn’t get too many great shows. But before the show, I got a little too high. And when the bands were playing, I spent the entire show going down mental rabbit holes: All the people here are either old men like me or prematurely old young men. Why would I want to be around that? These bands are clearly not amped to be here. I should be home watching TV and sleeping, and I wish I wasn’t high anymore. That kind of thing. I’m not going to say who the bands are, because it doesn’t even matter. It’s not their fault. If you get to a certain age and you’re still going to rock shows, you are probably going to have a night like this every once in a while. And I’m bringing all this up to get at a more specific point: I can’t imagine anyone ever feeling this way at a Diarrhea Planet show.
Diarrhea Planet tour hard, and they have been to my town many times. The first few times, I skipped them because of their frankly horrifying name. Is it a planet made of diarrhea? Or is it merely a planet where all the inhabitants are afflicted with diarrhea? Is it simply your state of being when you’ve got the runs? I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and that line of thinking made me not want to see the band. When I finally did see them, though, they were a revelation: A beered-up party-rock army with hooks for days. Diarrhea Planet are a punk band, basically, except they have four guitarists, and all of those guitarists are perfectly willing and able to shred their hearts out. During each song, there would normally be one guitarist playing the central riff, while the other three would just be doing competing blitzkrieg solos all at the same time. My favorite guy would be the one calmly strutting to center stage while playing Angus Young arpeggios. That first time, I saw them in a tea house with a few dozen paying customers, and they treated it like it was a stadium. They’re playing bigger venues now, but they’ll never play a venue that feels big enough to hold them, and it’ll probably never feel like you’re not at a party in their backyard.
When a band has a live show as reliably fucking awesome as the one Diarrhea Planet has — especially if that band comes from the low-budget punk-rock universe — then it’s just not reasonable to expect the band to capture that energy on record. It won’t happen. It’s not possible. The best you can hope for, in most cases, is a pretty fun album that reminds you of the live show. That was where Diarrhea Planet were with their last album, 2013’s I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. It’s tinny and muffled, but the songs and the hooks are there, and it works as a fun preview for the next time the band is in your town. Turn To Gold doesn’t work like that. This time around, the band made a clear effort to step everything up. The producer they hired was Vance Powell: a man who hasn’t produced too much on his own, but who’s a Grammy-winning audio engineer, a Nashville pro who’s put in work with people like Jack White and Chris Stapleton. Powell makes Diarrhea Planet sound huge, making sure you can catch every blazing nuance of those riffs and those solos. He makes them sound like stars, which is what they always were, as you know if you’ve seen them live. It’s still not the same thing as the live show. You won’t, for example, smell spilled beer by listening to the album. But it’s a whole lot closer than they’ve ever come to capturing that majesty.
And as ever, there’s real charm in the band’s combination of fiery guitar heroics and scrappy punk-rock charm. Less than a minute into the album, frontman Jordan Smith croons, “I just wanna cruise,” with absolutely zero irony. Diarrhea Planet are not what you’d call a lyrics-first band. There are songs on Turn To Gold about gentrification and mental unrest and the mystical power of the guitar. But Smith sounds most at home when he’s singing about how fucking fun it is to ride motorcycles: “It ain’t a sin! If you win! Tearing through the streets of heeeaaavennnn!” And some of his lyrics are straight-up nonsense rock-singer boilerplate: “You can tune into the station / To feel a deep vibration / but the frequency remains.” That’s fine. It’s kind of awesome, really. Diarrhea Planet are a good-time rock band, and with a band like that, you don’t necessarily want to learn deep truths about yourself while you’re listening. Turn To Gold is their defining statement not because it makes them out to be something great but because it’s the clearest expression we’ve yet heard of who they are. These songs are going to sound great blaring on car stereos this summer. They’ll sound even better when you’re in the room with the band and they’re blaring them directly at you.
Turn To Gold is out 6/10 on Infinity Cat. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Astronoid’s roiling, textured shoegaze-metaller Air.
• Band Of Horses’ craggily soaring Why Are You OK.
• Yung’s raging melodic punk debut A Useful Dream.
• The Gotobeds’ fearsome, jangled rocker Blood//Sugar//Secs//Traffic.
• Garbage’s gleaming alt-pop return Strange Little Birds.
• Nite Jewel’s insular, slick pop album Liquid Cool.
• Sumac’s thundering churn-metal debut What One Becomes.
• Leapling’s noisily melodic Suspended Animation.
• Peter Bjorn & John’s spry Swede-popper Breakin’ Point.
• Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor’s solo effort Piano.
• Circuit Des Yeux side project Jackie Lynn’s self-titled debut.
• Matthew Dear dance project Audion’s big return Alpha.
• Ex-Titus Andronicus guitarist Amy Klein’s solo album Fire.
• Mumblr’s unraveled punker The Never Ending Get Down.
• Ben Lukas Boysen’s ambient excursion Spells.
• Former Studio member Dan Lissvik’s solo debut Midnight.
• Plaid’s skittering IDM exercise The Digging Remedy.
• Big Deal’s heaving rocker Say Yes.
• The Invisible’s guest-heavy, genre-blurred Patience.
• Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin’s singer-songwriter team-up Colvin & Earle.
• Tyfon’s Doom’s old-school metaller Yeth Hound.
• American Monoxide’s funky lo-fi home recording Web Content.
• Allen Toussaint’s posthumous LP American Tunes.
• Decorations’ Have Fun EP.
• Oyinda’s Restless Minds EP.