The Tommy Marz Band escapes the sophomore slump with their exceptional new album, Seventy-One Trips Around The Sun.
After playing for over a decade with his rock band GoToZero, Tommy Marz took a break and recorded a solo album. Shortly after, Marz hooked back up with Jason Tucker and Chris Alef, of GoToZero, and collectively decided to record under the Tommy Marz Band moniker. They released their debut album, Bringing Alpha, in 2015, where it peaked at #30 on the iTunes New Rock Albums Chart.
Their new album, Seventy-One Trips Around The Sun is an extremely personal album for Marz, who mentioned, in an interview with Leah Brungardt of All Access, that his father fell ill last year, passing away at the age of 71. He says they spent a lot of years with a strained relationship, and that being there by his father’s side, until he passed, gave them the time to find their way back to and really appreciate one another. The album title refers to his father while the album is a concept of that time and his life.
Marz says he has never been this open and vulnerable before in his music. As a lyricist, Marz has matured greatly from his GoToZero days, making one think he is many years older than he actually is. There is a solid cohesiveness amongst the instrumentation on this album which most likely comes from the bond Marz, Tucker and Alef have built by having been playing together for 13+ years.
Seventy-One Trips Around The Sun opens up with “My Former Self,” a throwback grunge like song which makes for a unique opening. The guitar work is old-school and heavy but peppered with a hooty-sounding eighties keyboard flourish to keep the song on the lighter side of doom. There is a wonderful echoey solo, which winds up a melodic staircase of ascending interrogative licks, and then the song descends back down into a groovy bass guitar melody (during the verses) which just sticks in your head like glue. This song has exquisite writing with flawless execution if you are into the late nineties definition of rock and roll.
“Tumble in the Rough” is a cover from Stone Temple Pilots, which takes a different direction than its namesake. It starts with a Beatlesesque reversed guitar riff, then bounces into a poppy stomp-and-clap open. The groove really hits you when the march takes a darker tone as the intro riff comes back and the song descends into a rumbly verse, then Marz dives into Scott Weiland’s whispery-mumbly lyrics. It was interesting how the song looped back around to the reversed riff for the solo, and the prechorus snare-down builds up to the drop back to the stomp-and-clap in genius fashion. This song has sports-team rallying cry all over it, despite the downtrodden message therein. It’s a whole lot of jumpy fun.
“Reborn” could easily be considered the Tommy Marz Band’s greatest recording achievement. It starts with a bright guitar strumming and a soaring vocal melody that’s unlike anything you’ve heard from the Tommy Marz Band before. In fact, you rarely hear anything close to this even from vocal-focused single-name artist groups, let alone modern-rock trios. With a bang, the main riff bursts into motion, with those snare-drum-and-cymbal accents one has come to love from the Tommy Marz Band. When the chorus kicks in, it builds upon itself like a skyscraper, climbing and climbing, until the crescendo peaks with a symphony of vocal harmonies sparkly enough to run chills down your spine. This is a song you want to listen to while jogging to the top of a mountain to spread your extended arms to the rising sunlight and take wing. It is not your typical rock or grunge song, nor does it even come close to an industry-standard pop tune. It is, in and of itself, another entity entirely. It is one that will carry you away on inspiration and hope, both from intricacy and delicacy of melody and harmony and from earnestness and anticipation of message. This song is easily the highlight of the album, not so much for its conformity to rock-pattern templates (or lack thereof, actually), but for the sheer joy, the song brings forth just by sitting back and allowing one to absorb it.
Not to be vocally eclipsed so early on in the album, “Misery” charges out of the mist with harmonies of its own, but wrapped in a decidedly pricklier package. Both a Faith No More style rocker and a Journey influenced stadium anthem, this song brings modern-rock layered vocals together with old-school Abbey Road audio tricks by opening the track with another reverse-speed guitar lick accompanied by a pendulum swinging bass hook, then pausing, and then stomping into a late nineties sounding grinder-riff, and then launching from that half-tempo rhythm to a double-time vocal harmony chanting chorus. This is the kind of song that will get audiences singing along, and that bass guitar once again just carries the song through, humming a low-hertz tune of its own that glues the song together with sweet audio butter.
“Coffee, Cigarettes and Judge Judy” does what the best pounding rock songs have done through the ages: bloodies our lips, kicks us in the ass and makes us mosh. The lead guitar bleeds with attitude and the drums pulse like a heartbeat after a marathon. Hard and fast is the only way to describe this song, however, shockingly, it suddenly rose into a melancholy vocal melody chorus, dripping with regret and remorse. At once determined, a little angry, and very, very sad, Judge Judy is the story of a dying man’s last days and the closing in on the world around him to his very living room. Both powerful and daunting, this track was an emotional journey, and the sheer strength behind the guitar phrasing and vocal dirt simply cannot allow a passive absorption. Choose to, or not, you will be carried through the final, dragging steps of the life of a man full of regret, a man lamenting the loss of a relationship with his son, a man spending his last days watching television and wishing he’d said what he hadn’t. Hard and sad, Judge Judy may be the most emotional story the band has ever told.
“Rival” is a track which has already been featured on Marz’s solo album of the same name, however, has been given a new remaster treatment for inclusion on Seventy-One Trips. It retains the singer-songwriter vibe it had back in 2012, but with a better treatment of the audio-space, and more commensurate with the band’s current sound. The upwards float into the actual chorus still rings special whenever the hooty background vocals kick in.
Straight out of Ian Astbury’s post-punk playbook, “Spiritus Mundi” kicks hard like The Cult’s more memorable stompers (“Love Removal Machine” or “Wild Flower” comes to mind) and marches like an unstoppable truck. Where one heard dim echoes of regretful anger in Judge Judy, you now hear frustrated rage in Spiritus Mundi. This song has a singularly unique sounding chorus, sort of a stumbling roll that gives you the feeling of unstable ground, filled with sharp rock, but then flattens out onto smooth highway for the post-chorus sing-along. The bridge that comes in after Chorus #2 climbs a crescendo and then explodes into super aggression for four screaming bars, and then drops back to a head-nodding pulse rhythm before breaking apart completely for the downtempo outro, which reveals the least sharp-edged part of the message; a time to breathe, a time to grieve.
“Seventy-One Trips Around The Sun” is an instrumental surprise for the title track, and it’s a doozy! Complex layered guitars and a ghostly sitar hook, the title track is far-east cool with some early-oughts thunder rolled into one. The song has a mountainous feel as it builds slowly from sparse instrumentation to more full-fledged rock construction, complete with groaning and then bluesy crybaby guitar solo movements before stopping and fading out with a church organ like guitar effect.
“A Horse with No Name” is another cover song, originally recorded by the group America. It starts with a dreamy and wispy refrain, and then the vocals waiver up into a ghostly being. After a melancholy recitation of the opening verse, the song suddenly kicks in with an undeniable pulse-beat that drives the tune into forward momentum. Both more powerful and more musical than its namesake, the Tommy Marz Band does Dewey Bunnell proud, while at the same time keeping their own signature drive and grind alive within its walls. Once again, the harmony vocals bring it new life by facilitating a startling switch from minor to major chords: where the original track kept the vocals in minor key, this cover brings it up a half-step to a major chord, revealing a new layer of illumination to the melody. Whether or not you were a fan of America’s 1972 hit, one cannot deny the headbanging drive of that beat when it gets going. Coupled with a reverby solo that winds up and down while the song marches forth behind it, this cover will go down as one of the more memorable iterations of this classic.
Without sacrificing any sort of momentum, the album jumps right from the drive of the previous ‘Desert Song’ directly into the speed-limit violating “Living Stronger,” a song about the unkillable killer; a disease that slowly takes the life of a woman’s love. You are buoyed almost immediately upon hearing Marz’s yodel-like opening words; as the converging harmonies coalesce into a single-note shout, one closes their eyes and lets the song carry them. Then the prechorus breaks in momentarily with some cymbal accents, before shifting back into overdrive and punching forward again for verse 2. Then comes the chorus, yet another anthem worthy melody that describes the dedication she has to staying with him as he fights the battles to come, regardless of whether he wins them or loses them. This is the kind of song that pushes positivity and strength, and that shows through everything from the chunka-chunka guitar work to then hang-slam of the snare accents in front of each downbeat. This is not a song to jog to; it’s a song to sprint to.
“Wander” is classic Tommy Marz Band grunge rock with stratospheric harmony. The song opens slowly with some downtempo group vocals, then jump-starts with the kind of start that brings to mind the stadium rock bands that set off pyrotechnics with the first kick, then carries you through Layne Staley style dual-tones for the rest of the song. The bridge breakdown has an undeniable finality to it, with heavier distortion and hanging snare drum, before pausing once again, and then floating away into a slowly deconstructing drift; instruments falling away like leaves in the wind.
“Out of Body Experience” is another classic from Marz’s solo debut Revival, wherein it also was the closing track. While also enjoying a modern remaster, like Revival, this song was given a chorus rewrite and a few new instrument overdubs, making for an even more haunting experience than the previous time. It was also shortened some, removing a bit of the monologue at the halfway point in favor of a punchier timetable. Both a nice homage to its roots and a modern reinterpretation of a classic pop-rock chiller, the closing track on this album brings the high-energy and high-emotion rollercoaster of a trip dreamily and weirdly back to the station, where it fades, proving how versatile this song as at closing out albums of completely different feels.
As impressive as their debut album, Bringing Alpha was Seventy-One trips Around the Sun is a masterpiece of songwriting, instrumentation, and overall recording, producing, mixing and mastering. Not sure if credit goes to the recording studio, the producer, the mixer, or even just to the band themselves, but Seventy-One Trips has so many layers to it waiting to be peeled away. Each song is like a beautiful plump head of lettuce; each time you listen to it, you peel away a layer discovering a new one in its place.
Seventy-One trips finished its first week at #7 on the iTunes New Rock Albums Chart and #83 on the general iTunes Rock Albums Chart (where it peaked as high as #45). This is pretty impressive proving that independent bands have a place in the hearts of many.