Bob Waters reviews Tropical F*** Storm’s sophomore album.
Disaffected masses, world weary workers, marginalised minorities – lend me your ears! Aren’t you enjoying the ride? This roller coaster that keeps plunging down into deep darkness with no hint of slowing? The world is a hateful quagmire, and those who hold any power to heal our ailing planet are the most hateful and odious among us. It’s always been that way, but recently it’s become cartoonishly obvious. So far nihilism and paralysing anxiety seem like the only fitting responses.
But it’s ok, we’re never alone in these feelings and we’re free to wallow in them and bemoan their causes. And why wouldn’t we, wallowing and bemoaning are terrific fun. Gareth Liddiard’s songwriting tenure with The Drones has been shaped by his brutally honest depictions of contemporary Australian culture, exposing it’s grimy underbelly. Tropical F*** Storm formed two years ago, bringing together Liddiard and Drones bassist Fiona Kitschin, and fellow Aussies Erica Dunn of MOD CON and Lauren Hammel of High Tension. Their formation coincided with our mutual global descent into the hyper-normalised dystopia we reside in today, and has signified a change in approach. 2018’s A Laughing Death In Meatspace and now Braindrops are internationally relatable documents of dismay. Braindrops more than continues the theme but progresses things further. In place of Meatspace’s bombast is intoxicated delirium.
‘Paradise’ begins like waking up from a hangover, heavy and disorientated, stumbling into hazy lucidity. Its climaxing choruses are cold water baptisms. As it collapses into chaos there is strong evocation of the album artwork, a great lumbering eldritch beast sprawling about and covering all. A Lovecraftian mess of pop culture doused in a healthy slime of cynicism.
Braindrops more than continues the theme but progresses things further. In place of Meatspace’s bombast is intoxicated delirium.
The three following tracks are anxiety made sound – skittish rhythms zig-zagging continuously, always with a paranoid eye looking back over the shoulder. They are driven by palpable frustrations. On ‘Straw Men’, Liddiard targets vacuous and performative political dramas that serve only to distract (“But all paths lead to nowhere; And it all adds up to nothing”). Dunn leads ‘Who’s My Eugene’, using the story of Brian Wilson’s tumultuous relationship with his psychotherapist Eugene Landy to explore her own anxieties of giving one’s self over to another, how much power over you a loved one has (“Holding me up, putting me down; Holding you up, putting you down”). Even the albums more introspective moments feel microcosmic of a more global misery.
The scope switches back to aim at the Aussie’s homeland on the title track, rallying against those that shirk responsibility for societal woes. Liddiard is in terrific lyrical form here, exhibiting some trademark bluntness – “When all’s said and done you’re just a massive cunt, so stop acting like your problems all jumped out of a cake.” The brief breather the track takes in its second half recalls the aqueous, swirly guitars from Can’s ‘Future Days,’ though here it imbues sea sickness rather than ocean serenity. Throughout the album the sludgy sounds conjured from guitar and bass are like wading through a marsh, spiked with thorns and rusty nails. This is rock music with a nasty and ever worsening infection. Any more fuzz and it would die of sepsis.
This is rock music with a nasty and ever worsening infection
I mentioned Lovecraft earlier and this is even more apparent in the music of the final 3 tracks which, despite a purposeful dose of lethargy, all seem to be concealing a deeper horror, bubbling just below the surface. The cursed wailing strings in the back of ‘Desert Sands of Venus’ sound exhumed from some ancient tomb. They mix with into a frittering mass of unidentifiable plinks, plonks, bleeps and bloops – an alien soup, squirming and not wanting to be seen (literally alien in fact, as it includes recordings from the surface of Venus made by a soviet space probe).
Liddiard has priors when it comes to bookending albums, with pretty much every Drones album having its finest moments starting and closing. ‘Maria 63’ stands alongside ‘Paradise’ as twin tour de forces. It’s a behemoth with signature building climaxes and descents into glorious cacophony.
There are a few drawbacks – the production for one is a little muddy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve just been heaping praise on the filthy muddiness of this record, but I do wish we were able to explore all the gooey sonic depths in a bit more detail then we’ve been allowed to. In addition the songwriting perhaps isn’t as consistent as it was on Meatspace, at times ideas aren’t quite as developed and closure isn’t fully gained. These seem like minor blips when considering the record as a whole. It’s too easy to be caught in its maniacal snare. You will find snippets those dizzying guitars fading into your mind for days after listening, like a nauseous siren song calling you back for an umpteenth listen.