Album Review | Watch It Die by The Stools and Toeheads


Logan Juncaj, Writer/Volunteer

The city of Detroit has historically been a cultural hub exploding with music, art and fashion rivaled by few cities across the world. Not only did it host Motown, but legends like The Stooges, MC5, Death, The Gories, Negative Approach, Laughing Hyenas and The White Stripes have all emerged from the streets of Detroit. 

Blasting out of the basement and tearing off the roof of some of your favorite Detroit venues, like the Outer Limits Lounge and the UFO Factory, the Stools and Toeheads are not to be taken lightly. The young punk trios are a newer component to Detroit’s vile stench of hip-shaking, foot-stomping rock ‘n’ roll and are ready to explode. 

The Stools and Toeheads released their split LP, Watch It Die, on Oct. 7, 2022, and haven’t looked back since. The Stools have played a slew of live shows, including a performance with Easy Action at the Outer Limits Lounge on New Year’s Eve, and Toeheads released another record, A Cruel Winner’s World, on Dec. 16. Released through Drunken Sailor Records, Watch It Die is a split LP featuring the fuzzy and abrasive garage-punk sound of two of the most prominent up-and-coming bands in the Detroit music scene.

Composed of guitarist-vocalist Will Lorenz, bassist-vocalist Krystian Quint and drummer Charles Stahl, The Stools take a garage rock sound all too familiar to Detroit and make it distinctly their own. With a sound that smashes through your speakers like a freight train on a never-ending track, The Stools bring an energy unlike any other that can only be truly experienced at one of their high octane live shows. 

The Stools, along with Joey Hanania of Toeheads, also play in a band called PHARMA. Stahl also runs his own record label, Painters Tapes. The Stools have gigged across the United States and played opening slots for acts such as Jack White, Raconteurs, The Gories, Surfbort and Reigning Sound. They’ve also held festival spots at Levitation in Austin, Texas and Muddy Roots in Tennessee. 

This album opens with “Dead Man’s Ford” by The Stools and almost instantaneously you can feel that tingle traveling down your spine and into your feet, making you tap right to that beat. This is some real lo-fi garage rock to get you out of your seat. 

“Dead Man’s Ford is like five years old /

It rusts like a tea kettle on the lawn /

Wind tears foreheads off the billboards.” 

A town with faceless billboards and an automobile left to rot by its deceased owner creates the perfect setting for the lawlessness soon to follow. The phrase “Dead Man’s Ford” is repeated with a robust vigor throughout the song, properly introducing you to The Stools and setting you up for the rest of the ride that is Watch It Die. Also, you can’t help but to wonder if the Dead Man’s Ford is the car on the album cover — I’d like to think that it is.

Next up on the tracklist is “Fascist Cupid.” In Roman mythology, Cupid is the god of desire and affection tasked with the role of shooting people with arrows infused with the power of love. You have to exhibit at least some degree of fascism in order to control how people fall in love. However, The Stools are not angered at this despotic deity and instead sympathize with him:

“I grieve for you /

You fascist Cupid /

Playing the pan flute.”

You can’t help but to feel bad for the god of desire, as he is subject to an eternity of making others fall in love, but will never truly experience those feelings himself. 

My personal favorite track of the album, and one of my most listened to songs as of late, is “Strong Street Stranglehold.”

“The black gloved watchman /

He jumps you like a smokeshow /

In the blue rain dust bowl /

Your frostbite grave awaits /

Strong Street Stranglehold in my brain.”

Borrowing part of the song title from Motor City rocker Ted Nugent’s track “Stranglehold,” this song truly grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let go. I don’t have the slightest clue as to what a Strong Street is or why it is in their brain, but this song is a perfect blues garage rock tune to showcase just what The Stools are made of. 

At the beginning of the song “Can’t Feel Good” off The Stools’ live recorded album Live at Outer Limits, an unnamed individual — presumably an employee of the Outer Limits Lounge — states, “As an old dude, I’ve got a lot of people who come up to me and say rock ‘n’ roll’s dead, and I’m like, ‘Do you know The Stools?’”

“Evil” is just one of the many tracks that showcase how The Stools are keeping rock ‘n’ roll alive:

“Dance across my back like it’s broken glass /

Don’t tell me when you’re leaving next / 

Way down low where the needles go /

Breaking my neck on a pin prick thumb rest /

You’re evil /

You’re under my skin.”

Rounding out the The Stools side of the LP is “Harsh Green River.” Continuing the formidable speed and tight musicianship of The Stools, “Harsh Green River” reminds listeners of the many polluted aquatic bodies in and surrounding the city of Detroit.

Toeheads are composed of bassist Hanania, guitarist/vocalist Jake Aho and drummer Derek Burbank. Toeheads are an angst-filled trio bringing you filthy garage punk rock ‘n’ roll in the finest Detroit fashion. Characterized by anxiety-inducing beats and lots of screaming and jerky rhythms, with a lo-fi garage rock undertone at the same time, Toeheads will charm you before punching you in the mouth. Toeheads represent the garage-punk genre in the vein of their forefathers, like Jay Reatard and Ty Segall, bestowing upon listeners monstrous anthems like “Told You Twice” and “Skubble.” Toeheads exhibit a sense of lawlessness that can only truly be experienced when attending one of their raucous live performances. 

Toeheads begin their side of the LP with “Wanna Be Alone.” When you are constantly surrounded by people and always moving, sometimes you just want to slow down and be alone. This song tells of that longing feeling:

“Well I just want to be alone /

Want to sit here all by myself /

If you ever think of callin’

Spend that dime on somethin’ else.”

The next song on the tracklist is “Haista Vittu.” I apologize to any Finnish readers who may be offended by the title of this song. 

“Haista vittu /

Rich villain die /

Buy a block and let it rot /

While people live inside /

I hope they kill you /

You and your kids /

Got no love for you /

They never did.”

With a theme that reminds me of Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” “Haista Vittu” exposes some of the evils that landlords — specifically slumlords — are notorious for. Many landlords will purchase properties and then charge exorbitant rates to tenants without ensuring that these properties are adequate living spaces, thus violating the rights of their tenants. Landlords have no care, though: You’d better make sure to pay your rent on time or else you’ll be out on the streets. In the song, the beggars and workers rise up to kill the landlords and bury them in shallow graves. “Haista Vittu” showcases a response to landlords abusing their power in classic punk rock fashion. 

Toeheads do their best early Oblivians impersonation on “Painkiller.” With a formula that’s guaranteed to get the people grooving, “Painkiller” is a classic garage rock tune describing the dependance of painkillers for relieving past trauma:

“I went to the doctor /

So he could fix the hole /

The hole, the hole /

In my heart.”

Water is one of the basic necessities to human life, and without water we will all perish. “Water War” recognizes this and describes how one day wars will be fought over water and that people will need to battle just to quench their thirst: 

“In the end we’ll be too dry for tears /

So watch it die, let it go  /

Our thirst will be all we know.”

The final track from Watch it Die, “I Wanna Be in Your Life (So I’ll Die)” teaches us that Toeheads are not a one-trick pony. This song is a tale of life after death. A highly expressive croon beaming with emotion, this song highlights the mortal struggle of human existence and the grave reality that all people must die, along with the emptiness that ensues following the loss of a loved one. It is an absolutely devastating album-ender which highlights Aho’s vocal range.

“I want to be in your life /

So I’ll die so I’ll die.”

Harsh, fast and unforgiving, but beautiful all at once, this album serves to encapsulate the spirit of Detroit in music form. The Stools and Toeheads are both masters of their craft and I wouldn’t be surprised if either of these bands ends up becoming the next great thing to come out of Detroit.