The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Tropic Of Cancer
Restless Idylls James Ubaghs , October 3rd, 2013 09:16

It's somewhat ironic that Camella Lobo's Tropic of Cancer project is named after Henry Miller's most famous novel. It's usually only remembered for its - for the time - highly provocative 'pornographic' content, and famous ensuing obscenity trials. Those that bother to read it will find a book that drips passion and a lust for life from every page as it details his sordid existence of poverty, sex and debauchery while struggling to be an artist in 1930s Paris. Henry Miller was a man lying in the gutter with his eyes fixed solidly on the drain, and loving every grotesque second of it.

This contrasts with Tropic of Cancer the musical act who, while highly romantic, deal with a romanticism that's curdled into a profound and unending depression, with no manic upswings in sight to relieve the darkness. It's all the better for being so uncompromisingly bleak. Sometimes you just need to indulge your darkest, most pessimistic tendencies and Tropic of Cancer's music offers a perfect outlet for doing so.

Restless Idylls is Tropic of Cancer's first full length LP; following years of steadily growing a cult following through singles, EPs and compilations. While early work was created as a partnership with Juan Mendez of Sandwell District acclaim, Tropic of Cancer has since entirely become Lobo's project.

Despite the shake-up, Tropic of Cancer's music has been remarkably consistent, not in a way that suggests not a lack of ideas, but demonstrating an intense commitment to sonic aesthetics and themes. It may be excessively morbid and dark for some tastes, but it's a darkness that feels honest. Those that have listened to Tropic of Cancer's past material will know what to expect going in; distant and barely intelligible vocals, soul-crushing synths that sound like the darker moments of Suicide and Joy Division's oeuvre run through a blender to forcibly extract any hint of colour, and the odd hint of subdued motorik rhythm that provides the only glimpse of release from the brilliantly suffocating and monochromatic proceedings.

If anything the album feels even more downbeat than past material, which at times had a flicker of a pop dimension to it on tracks like 'The One Left' . On the album this only expresses itself on the excellent 'More Alone', and even then it's a damn sight more dour than the separately released 7“ mix of the song. Elsewhere the album moves at a dirge-like pace that recalls the superbly gut-wrenching closing tracks of Closer. The production is also much clearer and fuller than the at times hissing lo-fi approach taken on early singles, and it only makes the material hit harder. It's powerful stuff to say the least.

Restless Idylls doesn't transcend, or greatly advance the template set out by Tropic of Cancer's past work, but it refines that template to its purest and most evocative expression to date. Some may scoff at Tropic of Cancer's darkness as being absurdly exaggerated and juvenile but to those people I say this: turn off that damn Chvrches record, whack this on, and spend a few hours on Google images staring at pictures of disused industrial infrastructure while pondering deep thoughts about the inevitable decay and collapse of western civilisation. It'll be good for you.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.