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Tropical Fuck Storm
A Laughing Death In Meatspace Chad Parkhill , May 9th, 2018 10:55

Torrid and messy: former Drones man Gareth Liddiard gets weirder

You could call Tropical Fuck Storm an Australian indie supergroup - and many in the Australian music press have. Singer and songwriter Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin are key members of the Drones, guitarist Erica Dunn plays in Harmony and Palm Springs, and drummer Lauren Hammel works with High Tension; but ‘supergroup’ implies a level of rock pomp that this group don’t possess. You could view them as a successor project to the Drones – Liddiard writes all of TFS’s songs, as he did in the Drones – but that would also misrepresent the creative input that the rest of the band has in arranging and realising the songs. Descriptions flounder, but the name acts as the best barometer of the band’s intentions: Tropical Fuck Storm is a torrid, messy, thoroughly irreverent and acidly funny project.

A Laughing Death In Meatspace, their debut album, was recorded quickly and it sounds like it, in the best possible way. The band only performed their first gigs in September of last year, and Liddiard scrambled to write songs before their shows. There’s an unhinged and feral energy that pulses through these nine songs and goes beyond the considerable demented racket that the Drones are able to conjure at their finest: it’s less full-frontal sonic assault and more auditory guerrilla warfare, full of surprising textures and scrappy tones. Lead single ‘Chameleon Paint’ sets the tone: Dunn’s seasick, off-key riffs jostle with Kitschin’s overdriven bassline and Hammel’s brutal pounding, while Liddiard yowls over the top in his distinctive nasal ’Strayan. Liddiard’s not the only singer here, either: Kitschin and Dunn form a chorus that speaks back to him, call-and-response style.

Starting a new project unencumbered by the Drones’ name or weighty reputation seems to have given Liddiard the freedom to jettison the last remaining trappings of rock traditionalism in his songwriting and let loose, with impressive results. ‘Antimatter Animals’ fizzes with venom as Liddiard, Dunn and Hammel chant, “Your politics ain’t nothing but a fond fuck-you”; ‘Soft Power’ slowly builds to a near-apocalyptic crescendo, which suddenly gives way to make room for a powerfully melancholic coda; and ‘Shellfish Toxin’, a rare instrumental from Liddiard, is a queasily beautiful pastiche of surf-rock, Joe Meek and Frank Churchill-esque Hollywood schmaltz.

If the album has a thematic centrepiece, it’s ‘The Future of History’, which sees Liddiard narrate the 1997 chess match between Gary Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer over a mutant breakbeat. Nearly every line is an acerbic zinger: Deep Blue is “shock and awe with an Intel core / and a thing for the extinction of the dinosaurs”; Kasparov “staked his prowess on his claim to life / and he wasn’t about to lose it to a traffic light”. In Kasparov’s defeat, Liddiard sees a terrifying omen of the future of automation: “If silicone is prone to make your dreams come true / you could probably say the same thing about nightmares, too.” The album’s title track, a moody slow-burner, picks up this thread and takes it to its logical conclusion: the post-apocalyptic wasteland that’s left after Silicon Valley’s tech lords’ accelerationist philosophy has burned the planet to a crisp.

A Laughing Death In Meatspace is by no means easy listening: the playing is off-kilter, strange bursts of noise erupt from instruments, songs dissolve into a maelstrom of noises; the production, mixing and mastering bear traces of the album’s speedy composition and release; and the lyrics invite us to contemplate, without histrionics or self-deception, precisely how fucked we all are. It’s hot with anger and full of ugly truths about the ways we live our lives; and the effect is compelling.