Though Asheville has more than its share of musical genres filing festivals and booking stages, there’s a dearth of power rock. Which you might not realize until you catch the opening chords and subsequent searing guitar solos of local trio American Gonzos. Andrew Thelston (guitar and lead vocals, Michael “Mitch” Dean (bass and vocals) and Toby Burleson (drums and vocals) are more about muscle than melody when it comes to song structure. Their new album No Way to Live is a high-octane tribute to driving beats and the kind of guitar work that suggests smoke machines and pyrotechnics.
“Time Mind True” enters on a tidal wave of cymbals and a hyper funk baseline. Thelson sneers out the story of a bad break up. “Let me say this clearly, so that you understand. That without you I’ve been happy, just hanging out with friends,” he sings over syncopated beats. “Smack the Hatch” is another track built on a skipping, funk-tinged cadence, hinting at the Chili Peppers before turning resolutely back to its rock roots.
“Will They Look for Me” and “Ain’t the Best” both bristle with crisp rhythms and insistent vocals. Those songs, like many of the offerings on No Way to Live pairs insouciance with anthemic leanings.
“Out of Control,” like the name suggests, is all unruly burn. Percussive buckshot sprays across grinding bass and discordant guitar tones. The album’s title track, however, reigns in much of that frenetic energy in favor of moody melodies and languid, jazzy beats. Thelson’s vocal takes on a particular shade of blue-eyed soul, cut with Southern rock edge. “I’m giving up that feeling to learn how to forgive,” he sings on the angsty-intense chorus.
The album ends with “The Moon is on Fire,” which waxes both funky (thanks to plenty of wah-wah) and metallic. The bustling arrangement makes knife-sharp turns from one sonic texture to the next, almost as if two different bands were battling on stage. That play of opposing forces gives the song a darkly-theatrical aspect, which could lead into future chapters. Or albums.
The again, it makes for a pitch-perfect dramatic conclusion.