Tomorrow In Progress
, August 11th, 2014 08:50
Chances are you missed out on the Chainsaw Kittens in the 90s. But those of us who did catch them know how lucky we are. Frontman Tyson Meade's singular heavy glam pop vision carried the band through five albums and a handful of EPs before he seemingly disappeared and resurfaced teaching English at a Chinese boarding school. He had no intentions of playing music again but was soon "awestruck" by a young violinist named Haffijy. 'His playing was so beautiful that I was inspired to write something new'. And with help from Jimmy Chamberlin (of Smashing Pumpkins, who co-wrote three songs) and Derek Brown (keyboardist in Flaming Lips) that "something new" has become full-length album Tomorrow In Progress.
In many ways Tomorrow is an electronic update of the Kittens. Tyson's glam-dripping three-octave voice, his unique lyrical slant and delivery, the enticing way he staggers and repeats as he conjures these tunes into being. And let's not forget those song titles – 'Mao Into Madame Mao Into Marvin Gaye', 'Chinese Space Station Worker (Ramona's Song)', 'Flying Through Our Skins' all have the ring of his former band, and especially the ones containing girls' names (customary on most Kittens albums) – 'Dusty Come Up For Air' and 'Kiss Me Arabia'. This isn't to imply that Tyson hasn't grown, however. The album sees him experimenting more, taking risks and pulling them off, and producing some of his finest material to date.
The album kicks off with 'Nihilists Need Love Too'. A slow fuzzy new wave stomp with languorous blippy synth lead that WILL NOT BE RUSHED, until it decides to pick up speed itself, heralding a vocal obviously with the same plan of attack in mind. That synth soon launches into a gorgeous major key figure that ascends, while descending in and of itself, as Tyson takes a falsetto chorus that begins 'if you go through Nietzsche's underwear drawer…' All confidence, fun, intrigue, and groove. A killer outro –falsetto (and not) "now I'm gonna blow your mind's swirl about Nietzsche's room as he conjectures on investigating further", a staccato string section adding grandeur to the proceedings. Tomorrow has subtle depths, subsequent listenings revealing elements like the cool way Tyson shifts the rhyme and rhythm of the initial "you/through" to "through/room". Keeping the pace relaxed we move into the first of the co-writes with Jimmy Chamberlin, his presence felt by the stately opening beat and busy drumwork of the chorus. Synths move between two chords and a chant further gives the feel of a processional. Mellow but no less full or assured. Melody-wise, this is the closest to the Kittens on the record. We then move into the dirty hash dream of 'Kiss Me Arabia', new wave blips rebounding between defined major and minor key sections that see Haffijy's first contribution to the album.
'Flying Through Our Skins' is one of the highlights of the record. Strange sounds of haunting claustrophobic skies open into pure loveliness as Tyson takes on the tale of seeing the USA via hitchhiking and AM radio. The line "she's singing doot-doot-doot-do in the background" is one of those Transcendent Pop Moments. The soaring synths continue, in completely different fashion, on 'Mao Into Madame Mao Into Marvin Gaye', the most experimental song on the album. Its components are sparse - dark undercurrents converging to construct an intense fullness.
'Jump Punks' is another highlight. The most conventional pop song on the record, though of course it could never be all that orthodox with Tyson's delivery and lyrics telling the story of this trailer bride. Long held notes into the chorus give a wonderful sense of buoyancy and surging. And those held notes in the chorus don't repeat the next time they come around. More syllables have been added producing a lovely effect. Here we realise its an album of two, almost equal, halves. The first part mostly synths and experiments with song structure and now these final four numbers guitars and steady drumbeats moving towards more rock n roll forms. The minor key acoustic strums of 'When We Were' are also very Kittens-esque. Especially with the way Tyson's floating vocals change and twist the melody around. And with different voices coming and going, the ending is a dreamy smooth ride out. More acoustics, reminiscent of lazy evenings under porchlight, take us into 'Winter Boys Cutting The Rug'. Using 'Hey Jude' as a launchpad, the "ah'd" chorus takes off into smoky swirls skywriting just out of reach.
Closer 'Buddy Dash' is the most straight-up rocker of the collection, and definitely another high point. This joyous duet with Smashing Pumpkins' bassist Nicole Fiorentino is tremendously exciting, portraying movement ever forward as it works the relevance of the album title 'Tomorrow In Progress' into the lyrics. In a strange way, a culmination of everything we've heard thus far.