Consider this one of those rare occasions when a band’s description of itself actually fits. Most bands are prone to hyperbole when it comes to bio details, and that’s putting it mildly. Not so The Bootheel, which attaches the appropriately compact tag “aggressively Midwestern” to its sound. On its debut EP, Gold Tops, the group combines elements of country, rock, punk and roots music to craft a sound that’s tough, simple and swells with an underlying emotional intensity. Oh, and aggression. Plenty of that, too.
Every instrument is played at 10, and the drums somewhere around 12, traits the band can trace back in its lineage to the sonically pounding metal group El Minotaur, from which The Bootheel gets guitarist/singer Todd Balisle and drummer Warren Sandwell. The Bootheel is no Son Of Minotaur, though; the only thing that carries over is the aforementioned aggression, and even that manifests itself differently. In “Meg,” the album’s opening track, anger and remorse swirl around a booming kick drum on the verses before bursting into a foot-stomping, lead-with-the-bass classic country chorus that Waylon Jennings could have loved. It’s followed by “I Fish For Taste,” a swamp-rock track with a wriggling guitar riff; and “I’ll be Dam’d,” a compelling and dramatic song with a driving shout-along chorus about… a bicycle club. Unusual source material, but don’t knock the track till you’ve tried it. The chorus will have you on board for just about anything, including “when we ride!”
The highlight of the album’s second half is the rocker “Sexy Period,” which contains a chord progression that evokes the chorus of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Figthing),” though ascending whereas “Saturday” descends. In truth, there isn’t a slouch among these songs, and the band never lets up in playing them. Credit longtime friend of the band Jon San Paolo at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago for taking such a mammoth sound and shoehorning it into a six-track EP. Given the band’s affinity for Busch beer, with its gold lids, the name is appropriate in both brevity and symbolism. Gold Tops is a musical six pack, an easily digestible amount of the group’s sound and its desired aesthetic: The gang is outside loading fishing gear and coolers full of beer into the back of a ’70s Dodge truck for a trip down to the river, and Gold Tops is on the stereo. Hop in back and pop one open.