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Upon looking for interviews with the folks from Tropical Fuck Storm (TFS), the band write-up in Noisey had a quote that stood out to me quite a bit. Part of the story of how singer and guitarist Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin, formerly of The Drones, recruited guitarist Erica Dunn to the band. As the story goes, Liddiard and Kitschin called Dunn up and said “Do you want to play guitar? We’re just going to do some weird shit.” TFS’s first album, ‘A Laughing Death in Meatspace,’ was definitely some “weird shit”, but it was a bit like a snake trailing around its shed skin: you could still see the influence from much of The Drones’ later stuff upon it. With their new album, ‘Braindrops,’ it seems like TFS have finally embraced the “weird shit” ethos whole-cloth, and honestly, I’m personally not super keen on it.
Those impressions hit me pretty hard early on. The album’s first single, ‘The Planet of Straw Men’, left me pretty flat when I initially listened to it, and it’s grown on me a little bit since returning to it a few times, but not all that much. Given how much I liked their previous album, I was hoping that the single wasn’t indicative of this newer album. But my suspicions were confirmed with the album’s opening song, ‘Paradise’. Instead of the powerful song that kicked-off their last effort, ‘You Let My Tyres Down’, ’Paradise’ plods out of the gate like an asthmatic racehorse that already knows it’s going to be glue within the week. (Can horses get depression? I don’t know, but I like to ask the big questions around here.)
Like I said earlier, TFS have now fully abandoned Drones-worship and have really come into their own as a unique band, which is commendable, even if I’m not really picking up what they’re putting down here. Instead of the noisy, energetic blues-punk that dominated their meat-space extravaganza of an LP, ‘Braindrops‘ tends to have far fewer riffs and more soundscapes. Songs like ‘Paradise’, ‘The Happiest Guy Around’, ‘Who’s My Eugene?’, and ‘Aspirin’, are led by these angular, janky, guitar stabs that seem more fitting within jazz than rock, even if they’re still heavily distorted. Of course, they work better on some songs than others. ‘Who’s My Eugene’ is probably my favourite song, with all the instruments working together to form a groove that compliments Erica Dunn’s lead vocals really well. The titular ‘Braindrops’ is another favourite, where those janky guitars that litter the album work better than usual with Kitschin’s basslines and Liddiard’s trademark bored, slurred, and extremely-Australian vocal delivery.
Yet much of ‘Braindrops‘ is also lacking the spark, the energy, of ‘A Laughing Death in Meatspace.’ To my annoyance, there aren’t any songs that burst out of the gate the way that ‘Two Afternoons’ so gracefully did. The songs that do get some power to their movements tend to just slowly build up energy over time, like Goku or Godzilla. ‘Paradise’, for instance, starts out slow, but eventually, some riffs start appearing and Liddiard’s vocals get more prominent. The song then ends with an insane cacophony of electronic noises that match the album’s cover. I don’t exactly know what a “tropical fuck storm” would look like, but the “Island of Dr Moreau on ketamine” depictions on the album art is a pretty solid guess.
What doesn’t help the album’s lack of energy is the presence of two ballads or the closest thing that could amount to a ballad given the nature of this album. ‘Maria 62’ has so little going on that it’s practically an instrumental. Which would’ve been all well and good if the song’s low energy was a change of pace, instead of being another more slow song on an already slow-moving album. The inventively-titled ‘Maria 63’, the album’s closer, starts out much the same way, but after five minutes of me wishing something – anything – would happen, lo and behold it finally does. The song then explodes into a pretty epic climax, with the heavy guitars and powerful, ascendant female backing vocals that I so desperately wanted from the rest of the album. As happy as I am that the album ends with a fantastic climax, unlike ‘A Laughing Death in Meatspace,’ that climax does not feel earned in any way. Instead, it feels a little self-congratulatory. I didn’t want to picture the band patting themselves on the back for making an album that I didn’t like all that much, but hey, they’ve forced me to.
One compliment I’ll happily give to the band is that they’ve adopted a lot of linear song structures, which is definitely cool. I’ve said how ‘Maria 63’ moves to a pretty wild climax, as does ‘Paradise’. Midway through that title song, the band bursts into a heavy noise rock-infused section, before moving back into a regular verse again. Of course, weird structures can only make up for so much, and I also shouldn’t be practically begging a song to move on and get into some kind of energy or power or fun.
No matter how much I’ve complained here, I’m still really glad that Tropical Fuck Storm is doing their own thing. And by the sounds of it, they seem pretty damn happy doing it! Yet given how radical a departure from their previous album this new one is, I just don’t like it nearly as much as I should. Even with upcoming albums from Alcest, Chelsea Wolfe, and Have A Nice Life, this was actually one of my most anticipated albums of 2019, yet now I’m extremely let down. (There’s a lesson in there somewhere.) ‘Braindrops’ has grown on me over time, though. Just a little, for all that’s really worth. The first listen was a shock to my system, but over time I’ve grown to at least appreciate it. Just like my above rating indicates, I barely like it, and that’s by no means a massive compliment.
The Planet Of Straw Men
Who’s My Eugene?
The Happiest Guy Around
Desert Sands Of Venus
‘Braindrops’ is out now: