Like many other current bands from their region, one of the most interesting things about Turbo Fruits is their Tennessee scuzz. As much as the state’s musical identity has been forged on narrative country and Memphis soul, the Fruits, along with geographical and musical contemporaries like Diarrhea Planet and JEFF The Brotherhood, often prefer to do away with lofty genre aspirations in favor of sincerity. And when you’re a young band from the south, sincerity tends to mean gutter-minded riffs, crude production, and lots of misadventure, whether it’s narcotic, alcoholic, or romantic. Most of the time it’s all three.
But all bands have to grow up someday, even the rough-and-tumble ones, so it’s hard to fault Turbo Fruits for moving towards a cleaner sound more akin to power pop than southern garage rock. After all, sonic muddiness is frequently born out of necessity, not desire, and the group is now well-known enough to count Patrick Carney as a fan. With him as producer, why not shoot for a more expansive aesthetic? Carney’s successfully done just that with his own band, and the Fruits were already going in a similar direction with 2012’s Butter.
The problem is that by turning down the bar-fight ferocity, by transforming the shouting into singing, by trading out the noise for a larger emphasis on the words, the band not only loses their hypnotic energy, but reveals a severe weakness in their lyrics. Frontman Jonas Stein penned most of these lines after dealing with a nasty breakup, literally jumping off a tractor at his family’s farm so he could write the lyrics to first single “The Way I Want You”. That’s an interesting hook, this idea of returning home to chronicle a romance that was quite likely torn apart by a touring lifestyle. But Stein never makes his stories his own. You can get everything most of the songs say from their titles: “The Way I Want You” is about Stein wanting his (possibly ex) girlfriend, “Don’t Change” is about fearing change in his girlfriend, “Worry About You” is about worrying over his girlfriend, and so on.
The one saving grace of Stein’s lyrics is that he’s not afraid to turn the cross-hairs on himself. “Don’t Let Me Break Your Heart Again” makes it very clear that he hasn’t behaved himself on the road, and yet that doesn’t keep him from constantly begging forgiveness from his significant other. Unlike the other tracks, it gives some insight into how and why things ended, both of which are essential pieces of knowledge for an album anchored entirely by a breakup. For once, we can see not just Stein, but the person on the other end.
Essential Tracks: “Don’t Let Me Break Your Heart Again”