Tomato Flower


The full-length debut quartet is rife with tensions, both musical and personal, finds Amanda Farah

The tension of Tomato Flower’s debut album, No, is apparent from the title alone. It’s not a title that’s chosen when a band is setting out to be agreeable. There’s nothing overtly combative about the band, but a stubbornness, a dismissiveness, even a dread are slowly exposed in their short, unraveling songs.

The album is, by the band’s admission, influenced in part by the end of co-lead vocalists Jamison Murphy and Austyn Wohlers’ romantic relationship. It’s unsurprising then that there is a strong element of friction throughout No, in the rubbery guitar style, the tumbling song structures, and, yes, in lyrics that hint at why things came apart.

At the outset, Murphy and Wohlers’ vocals are set up in opposition to each other – Wohlers’ opens the album with her soft, airy soprano, and is immediately followed by Murphy’s raw, guttural shouting on album outlier ‘Destroyer’. But for much of the album, there is a blurring of their voices, frequently making them difficult to distinguish from one another, which creates an ambiguity around the interpersonal slights.

The guitars do have a scrappy precision, but frequently a switch will flip and songs fall apart for a few measures, a frenetic energy that sees that precision wilfully abandoned and leads guitars to trip over each other. It’s a regular feature across the album: the solid groove of ‘Radical’ breaks down in lieu of a bridge before being pulled back together again; the outro of title track ‘No’ devolves into twanging and shouting.

The sparse, rickety guitar style of the album is a departure from the dreamy psych of Tomato Flower’s EPs, but they have not fully abandoned that richer approach. ‘Sally & Me’ offers a through line from their EPs; its complicated progression follows a low vocal that buzzes like an electrical device and falls into a spacey rambling in which all instruments and voices get stretched out. This odd journey is bookended by the soft dream pop of their earlier releases in the space of three minutes.

While the lyrics are on a scale from heartbreak to curiously imaginative, and the rhythms of songs can be unpredictable, it’s easy to see a lightness and humour in the details. There is a tongue in cheek quality to the flute that trills through the outro of ‘Do It’, and ‘Harlequin’ has an amalgam of 70s and 80s synth references, skipping piano lines, and the prettiest vocal harmonies of the album. Tomato Flower’s approach can sometimes feel at odds with itself, but its overriding friction is matched by a spirit of experimentation and playfulness.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today