Critics just don't know what to make of Tortured Soul. They don't look like they sound, and they don't sound like anybody else out there today. Visually appearing to be straight out of a 90s power pop video, TS delivers music that instead recalls elements of late 70s dance groups like Skyy and Chic, but with a jam band attitude. In the process, drummer/vocalist Christian Urich, bassist JKriv and keyboardist Ethan White avoid the faceless, electronics-driven trap of many of their predecessors. Tortured Soul is, at heart, a live, performing band that just happens to play some of the most danceable music around.
Through constant touring around the world in front of steadily growing crowds (and without the help of radio) Tortured Soul has gathered a substantial following -- substantial enough that it is surprising to realize that the trio's new release, Did You Miss Me?, is only its sophomore disc. And if the band's debut Introducing Tortured Soul was the ultimate balancing act, teetering between the modern soul movement and the club, the new disc jumps off the fence with an unadulterated, persistent "shut up and dance" sound.
One of the things that has distinguished Tortured Soul from other modern dance groups has been the trio's ever-present sense of the hook. And those hooks are in abundance on the new disc, especially on "Home to You," "Another Lover," "See You More" and the uber-infectious title track, a song that could have come from Holland-Dozier-Holland catalog (one can imagine the Supremes covering it) and arguably the most accessible and radio-friendly cut of the act's career. Did You... takes those melodies and injects them into a consistent series of hot beats, delivering TS's concert fanbase with just what they expect -- one immaculate danceable tune after another.
There can be a somewhat impersonal nature to house records, but Urich's classic soul-ish vocals again provide a warmth to the cuts, making them as welcome in a car stereo as in a club. And it is precisely the combination of live instrumentation, strong beats and Urich's impressive singing that has created for the band a growing, nearly unclassifiable fanbase of college students, housewives and 60 year old soulheads.
The only disappointment on TS's two very memorable albums has been the lack of lyrics that are as noteworthy as the underlying melodies. Songs about love, physical attraction and sexual disloyalty have been standard in popular music forever, but have simply been handled more adroitly (or at least with less vacuous protagonists) elsewhere. That being said, discussions of life on the road on Did You Miss Me? (especially on the title cut) are more interesting than the themes of the group's debut album. Fortunately, Tortured Soul plays in the most lyrically forgiving of genres -- dance music -- so Did You Miss Me?'s lyrical shortcomings barely dent the overall gleam of the project (only felling the cool, loungy track "Tequila," which screams for clever, pithy dialogue that never arrives).
Ultimately, the difference between a good album and a bad album is how it sounds on the 20th listening. And Did You Miss Me? passes that test with flying colors. It is a disc that gets better with each listening, as both the group's musicianship and the natural irresistibility of the songs provide 2009's first great gift to the club scene...and to quite a few home stereos too. Highly Recommended.
by Chris Rizik