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Review: Diarrhea Planet, 'Turn To Gold'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Diarrhea Planet, <em>Turn To Gold</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Diarrhea Planet, Turn To Gold

"Back in the sixth grade, I heard Jimi Plays Monterey," Emmett Miller reminisces in "Bob Dylan's Grandma," a highlight of Diarrhea Planet's new album Turn To Gold. "Boy, did I melt that tape, and let that cassette self-immolate!" Rock 'n' roll loves to romanticize the power of rock 'n' roll itself, and in this ode to the shock-to-the-system albums that inspire you to play music, the Nashville sextet proclaims its love for heartbeat-raising thrill rides in song form. "It had been my dream to race F1 or fly F-16's / I've got the next best thing: to cut my teeth on these six strings," Miller blurts over breakneck drumming and a glorious four-guitar assault. It's enough to persuade anyone to shred in the basement with like-minded buds until their fingertips blister over.

With a name that started as a gross and goofy joke among six twentysomething friends, Diarrhea Planet has transcended its off-putting moniker, thanks in part to its potent and sometimes ridiculous mix of blistering garage rock, pop punk, metal and even Southern rock. It's an immediate and unapologetic sound, forged during their time at Belmont University and honed in Nashville's punk scene. Diarrhea Planet's rapid trajectory, from cramped house shows to big rock clubs and major festivals, comes in part thanks to shirtless, rafters-climbing stage antics, which have won over an army of diehards one stage-diving fan at a time.

Channeling a fraction of that fun and frenzy in the studio can be a challenge, but it's one Diarrhea Planet's members (guitarists and singers Jordan Smith, Brent Toler and Emmett Miller; guitarist Evan Bird, bassist Michael Boyle and drummer Ian Bush) were up for tackling on their follow-up to 2013's I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. Crafted with the help of producer and engineer Vance Powell (JEFF The Brotherhood, Jack White, Chris Stapleton), many of Turn To Gold's 10 songs were initially recorded live in the same room, then fleshed out with grander studio flourishes. The result feels true to the band's wild spirit.

"Life Pass" is a distorted banger made for beer-soaked, fist-pumping shout-alongs: "But when it fades in the morning and your luck has all run out / Your pocket's full of nothing, but you know just what you've found," Brent Toler howls over thick chords and rapid-fire riffage. Later, "Ain't A Sin To Win" revels in a spot-on over-the-top '70s heavy-metal pastiche, complete with thrashy guitars wreaking havoc.

Turn To Gold is Diarrhea Planet's most candid work yet. Peel away the fuzzy exterior, and the band alludes to battles with depression and stagnation ("Dune"), love and friendships ("Lie Down," "Ruby Red"), and feeling paralyzed in a stream-of-consciousness spiral ("Let It Out"). In the life-affirming anthem "Announcement," Smith sings of fighting for the path you've chosen: "You can waste an entire lifetime searching for a fool's gold / Or you can look inside yourself and find what you knew all along," he sings amid dueling harmonized riffs and finger-tapping guitar heroics. And in "Hot Topic," Smith calls out Nashville's gentrification and those commodifying the scene they helped develop. As he name-drops the shuttered police-precinct-turned-DIY-performance-space called Glenn Danzig's House, Smith reflects on losing something authentic in the name of progress — "Watch the places I love turn into a playground for those who can afford" — just as the song erupts in an angry squall of noise the new neighbors would surely hate.

In spite of its occasional darkness, Turn To Gold closes with "Headband," a climactic song that grapples with forgetting the ups and downs of the past, and exorcising uncertainty to find some peace. "I don't want to talk about the hope the future brings / I don't want to talk about anything that pulls hard on my conscience late at night / That's just baiting the beast looking for a fight," Smith sings of his tendency to get lost in his own thoughts. For anyone waging a similar battle, Diarrhea Planet's propensity for chaos provides a path to catharsis.

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