Written by Kirk
TH Speedball – I’m Destined for Greatness But My Brain is on Fire
> Hardcore punk
> New Jersey, US
> Released March 17
> Syrup Moose Records
I saw a meme on Twitter the other day that said something along the lines of, “We all know who had the most to gain from the pandemic…,” and it had photos of a bunch of billionaires like Bill Gates and whatnot in the background. Then, at the bottom, it said, “…people who make lo-FI bedroom pop music.” It was so silly that I couldn’t help but laugh, but it also rang true (to a certain extent) of Jon Steinberg, the sole member of TH Speedball. Since starting the project in 2019, he has self-released over 80 songs across five albums and two EPs, and this doesn’t include music released under his other projects (like Hatchback Convertible and Champagnoise) or songs for other projects and released by other labels. In other words, since the start of the global pandemic, Jon has been a really productive guy. Coincidence? Perhaps, but one thing is true: he eats, sleeps, and breathes music.
Jon’s style of punk is unique with TH Speedball. He combines lo-fi bedroom pop with the atonal approach of noise rock and the anguished shouting of hardcore. Nothing he does can be described as “typical”; there’s no dressing in tight jeans and leather jackets or polished choruses of “oooohs” and “aaaaahs.” His use of keyboards throughout his music makes this punk rock more akin to Suicide, the kind of music that makes normies want to take an ice pick to the eardrum. Pretty much everything about TH Speedball stands at odds with what you expect out of hardcore punk, and that’s what makes it so good. It’s earnest. It’s genuine. And it doesn’t give a fuck what you think.
The album opens with “Brain on Fire,” a simple but pleasant guitar melody welcoming us into Jon’s mind before he begins shouting into the void. But what he has to say is what’s on all of our minds:
“So please excuse me / While I escape to existential dread / ‘Cause I shouldn’t be here / I’m destined for greatness”
The drums then kick up the tempo, and then the wonky keyboard part kicks in and distorts everything before the song ends. But the distortion doesn’t end there. “S4N01” ups the ante with keyboards and guitars buzzing and humming together, creating an oddly satisfying yet unsettling sonic milieu. This track is pure sonic frustration.
“Backwards from Ten” continues the aural assault, guitars humming underneath the piercing call of the keyboards. On “Growing Pains,” the keyboards take a step back into a supporting role as the guitar and drums take center stage. “Dwell” changes things up entirely, a slower, softer song that sounds almost like something you’d expect from a dream pop act like Beach House. Up next is “Life of Stardom,” and again the keyboards take center stage. There’s something oddly hypnotic about Jon’s keyboard sound, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Up next is “Chemicals,” another song driven by keyboards over a jangly guitar rhythm and a steady drum beat. Then comes “Interlude,” which harkens back to “Dwell” with a much slower, darker guitar sound over ghostly keyboards and a smooth drum beat. “Ivy” just washes over you, the guitar and keyboards perhaps the most in harmony than they’ve been throughout the album. And conclusion “Destined for Greatness” is just pure indie pop with a punk rock attitude.
Throughout the course of the album, there is a sense of growing harmony as the different instruments go from sounding as though they are at odds with one another to unifying into one collective voice. I can’t help but feel this was done intentionally; this album is, at its core, a coming of age story. Long gone are the days of overcoming simple obstacles on the road to adulthood. The deck is literally stacked against us all, and you have to fight tooth and nail just to have your moment to shine. Something I think we can all relate to.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Is it cliche to call someone a “troubadour” anymore? When I think of artists who fit that description, I think of people like Bob Dylan, an artist who can sit down with just a guitar and a harmonica and capture an entire audience. There’s something in that kind of performance that has an Everyman quality to it, songs that speak to the hearts and minds of those who will listen. That’s what makes TH Speedball so special. It’s not so much the charmingly out-of-sync instruments or the warm, cozy, lo-fi production á la bedroom pop musicians. The secret ingredient is Jon Steinberg; he has a gift for channeling our collective anger and frustration at a world gone to hell into anthems and rallying cries. His songs are genuine and heartfelt. So, maybe he is a troubadour after all, and I can only hope he’s just getting started.