Review Summary: A near-perfect experimental post-punk experience.
The Drones are one of Australia’s best post-punk acts, continuing the political themes and zany vocal stylings Midnight Oil left behind with an added dash of experimentation. For whatever reason, lead vocalist Gareth Liddiard saw fit to start a side project under the wonderful name Tropical F*ck Storm, coupling their debut album possibly the most horrifying cover art I’ve seen to date. TFS have crafted an album that at points sounds pretty close to how the artwork looks, and it’s one of the most off-kilter and well-crafted album’s I’ve heard this year.
Central to the album’s success is Gareth’s distinctive vocals; his Australian-accented baritone is equal parts unusual and menacing, his delivery deliberated yet somewhat amateurish. This is nothing surprising to anyone familiar with The Drones; however, he does bring to his trademark croon an added edge which fantastically complements the off-the-wall instrumentals. He spits out most of his winding and absurd lyrics with unique ferocity, and it works in a way that’s hard to describe. His wild delivery on 'You Let My Tyres Down' complements the song’s bizarre lyrics about violence at an infamous local shopping centre and overt drug use. Meanwhile in their most brooding moments, Gareth’s eerie whispered delivery reaches a point of almost inaudibility, sounding at points as if he were sitting alone in a dark room while raving to himself. Equally manic are the vocals Erica Dunn brings to the table, which vary from harmonisation to shrill chanting. On 'Soft Power', the crow-like mantra she delivers in the song’s chorus is nothing short of chilling. The few occasions she takes the lead, her vocals aren’t quite as exciting as Gareth’s delivery, but the manic character they add definitely benefits Meatspace.
As with his work in The Drones, Gareth’s lyrics are decidedly political, and on Meatspace he injects then with even more character. For example 'Chameleon Paint' contains these gems:
“FYI a POV don’t make an NGO,
This scorn porn’s just the showboat spawn of lying in an exit poll”
And, alluding to the controversial Scott Morrison:
“All this scot-free moralising’s got me quite demoralised”
On 'Soft Power', verses begin manically, “Ahh no no no no, this ain’t the way it has to go”, before Gareth manically rants about celebrity, war and other failings of humanity. He verbally tears at the “umpa lumpa with the nukes”, and sardonically questions humanity’s future (“I can't remember anymore - The plan's we're either going to Mars or war”). He also explores the future of humanity on Meatspace through the increasing conflict between humanity and technology. On 'The Future of History', he theorises our relationship with technology will be humanity’s downfall the same way the meteor was to the dinosaurs, with fantastic lines such as:
“If IBM is here to make your dreams come true,
You can probably say the same thing about nightmares too”
To rattle off all the fantastic lyricism on show in this song alone would take the entire review, but essentially what’s present on Meatspace is a mix of witty wordplay and apocalyptic speculation, presented in a sometimes bizarre but always compelling way.
The instrumentation TFS present here is equally fantastic, with plenty of zany, off-kilter and memorable moments. The first thing a fan of The Drones' recent work will notice is that compared to their most recent work, the instrumentation is nearly entirely organic, and noticeably rougher. This is apparent from the first bends of 'You Let My Tyres Down', where loosely played bends, lurching drums, and unsettling harmonics all set the tone carried through the album. On 'Antimatter Animals' (incidentally what I think are featured on the cover art), strangely syncopated guitars give way in the verses to synth bass and eerie ornamentation. Album closer 'Rubber Bullies' sounds like an Art Punk band taking on a King Gizzard track, with similarly off-key guitar leads over a mid-tempo backdrop. The one complaint I have about the instrumentation here is that it somewhat lacks the lush, intricate construction that made The Drones' last couple of albums so fantastic. However, its loose nature does give the record a sense that each track could fall apart at any second. It feels as though the band are playing unrehearsed in a cobwebbed garage, which actually creates a wilder, more visceral listening experience.
The only moment of Meatspace that really disappoints is Shellfish Toxin. According to a Noisey interview, this purely instrumental track was “a bit of a Frankenstein project” constructed from “lots of spare parts”, and it unfortunately sounds exactly like that. While cool in concept, the track doesn’t do anything across its five and a half minutes to justify its existence on the album, and sounds as disjointed as its construction.
All said, Meatspace is a uniquely fantastic post-punk experience. With apocalypse-anticipating lyrical themes, other-worldly instrumentation and passionate performances, TFS’s debut is a thought-provoking and engaging record that more people need to hear.