Review Summary: The house that we tore down is now a vacant block of land
Gareth Liddiard’s protagonists have wrestled with the same problems for years – the vacuum-sealed loneliness that is borne out of their geography, their mistakes; the gloomy corners of their past following them around like a dog with its tail between its legs. What has changed, however, is the way he paints them now, and the amount of sympathy he affords them in between outbursts of belligerent noise. In 2010, The Drones’ principal songwriter released Strange Tourist
, a collection of stripped-back, meandering acoustic songs a la post-Red House Painters Mark Kozelek (though decidedly more abrasive and more dogmatic). In it, he presented himself as a thoughtful, meditative minstrel – offering his subjects the space they needed to go about their rituals unencumbered by a scorning, the space to make their mistakes freely (“I swear I did not know, you lay with dogs, you catch their fleas”). And on the off chance he did inject himself into the narrative, he was just as flawed as the flaw itself, just as complicit in pushing the cart past the point of no return.
He’s since replaced the considerate (well, *more* considerate) lens with, well, this. Tropical Fuck Storm is a vessel for indiscriminate vitriol and judgement. It’s a songwriter returning to square one, trading maturity for candour and sanding down the edges of his well-established style until its this gnarled, confronting thing – freed from the boundaries imposed by a need to be polite.
(A caveat: The Drones were never polite, per se, but there was always a sense of order there, and the songs were more refined. Here, that order is noticeably and purposefully absent.)
is somehow both more personal and more detached than Liddiard has ever been. It’s personal in that there’s moments of unmitigated passion, manifesting as anger, vulnerability, and virulent snark; the shrapnel from broken relationships and haywire politics ricochets off the band, just because of how close they position themselves to the centre of the breakdown. But it’s detached in that Liddiard and co. – both here and on A Laughing Death In Meatspace
– are almost omniscient. The righteous judgement on Braindrops
is indiscriminate, the type that can only arise once you’ve accepted your ugly parts are just as much a part of you as all the rest. The chorus of The Happiest Guy Around
sees Erica Dunn and Fiona Kitschin repeatedly yelping: ”Are ya ever ever gonna get over it? Are ya ever gonna learn to let things go?”
. Like, humanity is fucked, and there’s a level of futility in clinging onto the relics of optimism. Survival is getting used to being knee-deep in muck.
Of course, ugliness is TFS’ modus operandi. Ugliness and spontaneity. Guitars twitch with anxiety, bouncing off each other, just barely acknowledging the other’s existence in their pursuit of the same, scuzzy landscape. The riffs threaten free jazz skronk but always maintain a traditional sense of groove and structural integrity – finding backdoors into purposeful melodies, like when the hook of Paradise
suddenly interrupts the skulk and simmer of the preceding couple of minutes. The gang backing vocals littered across the record make it feel like a cult project, and Dunn’s tenure in the spotlight on Who’s My Eugene?
is the last attempt at an earnest personal connection before she and the rest of the band turn their back on the possibility of salvaging foregone conclusions. My favourite of these conclusions is Aspirin
– a vulnerable distillation of Liddiard-brand fatalism that resigns a whole relationship to a curt “you’ll be fine on your own” as if he always knew he’d eventually refer to the subject of the song in past tense.
And there’s little more on-brand for TFS than the idea that it's always people that are the victims of their own narratives. From the train driver in the title track, to the narrator in Maria 62
and ’63; every character, even Liddiard and Dunn themselves, are watching on helpless as time sinks into a chasm that they can’t pass. I don't think I've ever listened to an album as attuned to the decay and mould of the world around it as this one. But there's still an skerrick of hope left to mine on Braindrops
(as hope dies last in the hospital) and it reflects our last chance to rescue humanity from imminent death-by-apathy. Appropriately, the final line on the record is left to sit with us amongst the racket: "If you're gonna make your play, the time is now or never"
. And so the strange tourists finally interject.