Review Summary: These are only my impressions, all of which are false.
Technology may or may not kill us all. Probably not. The environment’ll get there first. So in the meantime, please let me know on the Facebook event page if you’re going to swing by the Apocalypse Party. We ain’t trying to drink ourselves to death, but whatever happens, happens, and if somebody wants to slip something a little more psychedelic in the punch bowl, just leave a note so we know what we’re getting ourselves into.
ck Storm’s debut 2018 release A Laughing Death in Meatspace
is consumed with this sense of ill-defined impending doom. It sits squarely in between fury, dissociative hilarity, and some sort of nihilistic mask to wear over the fact that “We care a lot, and there’s nothing to be done.” Pop the record on. And keep in mind – if you’re powerless to change the future, might as well give in to the absurdity. You don’t have to bring anything but yourself to the party, but folks do love their chips and dip.
is a catchy, endlessly compelling work constructed from an omnipresent sense of wrongness and oddity. Terrifying in implication? No question. But in presentation – it’s a bit less clear. There’s blood collected in the gutters, sure, but every shade of it is shot in glorious hyperreal technicolor. Even at its most inhuman, it isn’t without its kitschy charm. Perhaps that isn’t even quite correct – it might be these most inhuman moments that find the most life in their bug-eyed absurdity.
Galvanizing opener “You Let My Tyres Down” introduces the record on one of its most terrestrial notes, still imbued with the specter of front man/guitarist Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin’s former project The Drones. Launched with invigorating guitar interplay that quickly recedes beneath an insistent bassline, its lyrics focus on the sort of folks none too concerned with the dirt under their fingernails, or how long it’s been there. “Bebe,” the character’s named, but she could be anyone, really. Anyone born unlucky in a hole and only given a shovel to keep on digging - poor, desperate, and too much of both to care about either. But as the sound begins to expand once more, so too does the breadth of focus – not Bebe alone, but the “loser” family she grew up around. There is empathy here, but only in the tattered mosaic of broader social context that disenfranchises the poor and leaves them forgotten – not least of which to themselves. The track itself is defined by its tense swells, threatening instances of cacophony that are lassoed back down to Earth by the insistent rhythm and tamed at the very moment they appear to brush critical mass. And of course, that exhausted refrain – a microcosm of the same energy of the music – hoarse lines that seem to build, until they don’t. Until they deflate much like the titular “tyres.” Then, in the closing moments, the build doesn’t interrupt – increasingly desperate roars amidst a shrieking guitar maelstrom, and the truth becomes more apparent. The sounds don’t shirk climax from a sense of restraint, but simply because they could otherwise keep escalating forever. Who’s got that kind of time? Not Bebe, certainly. Not her family. Not us.
Enter “Antimatter Animals,” with its bounding, borderline atonal stomp. An anthem in spite of itself, and a bold leap off a cliff-face into the hyperactive void conjured by Tropical Fu
ck Storm after Tyres’ heavy-lifting to shake off The Drones’ formidable shadow. And here Laughing Death
really clarifies just what it is that beats at the heart of this quartet. Liddiard and Erica Dunn bounce discordant leads around Kitschin’s rounded, driving bass backbone. Drummer Lauren Hammel’s rhythms veer between battering intensity and the tense negative space that provides the battering its impact. This all comes gift wrapped in gear and a production job that lends the affair a post-human feel, the jittering like a wall of computers. Each note loses its shape in real time.
The same could be said for much of Laughing Death
’s first half, a dive into a chasm of strange sounds hurled together with such energy that they’re almost danceable. It all comes to a notable head with “The Future of History”: the buoyant race of the track itself almost as breathless as Liddiard’s frantic vocal delivery (often supported by Kitschin and Dunn’s equally manic backing). It takes the tension of its subject matter, and renders it explicit: musically, texturally, lyrically. Garry Kasparov vs. IBM’s Deep Blue computer – the first moment in history a computer had beaten the world’s chess champion under tournament rules. The song, however, frames the match as a subjective glimpse into the demise of the human race through Kasparov’s eyes, as he watches his own irrelevancy speed to the finish line. Tropical Fu
ck Storm are nothing if not sardonic, so there’s a suitable amount of catastrophizing along the way. Hammel goes as far as taunting Kasparov with the most artificial percussion on the album. Whether such an outlook is profound or paranoid comes down to perspective, while the band themselves side step such tonal clarification with their tongues planted firmly in cheek. “Your politics ain’t nothin’ but a fond, ‘Fu
ck You.’” Sorry, wrong song.
But regardless, lean in to that quoted double negative. Politics are not nothing, not with the perennial impending devastation that comes along with life in the modern age, and high water mark “Soft Power” wears that ethos on its sleeve. Verses rooted in a gnawing sense of anxiety over a politically nightmarish climate that looks strangely like our own race along tracks built from a jittery, ascending keyboard flourish – promises of human asylum on a propagandized Mars colony and the ever looming shadow of omnipresent warfare haunt the track’s fragmented psyche. And that’s just the beginning.
As it climbs ever onward into oblivion, Soft Power’s tenuous grasp on reality slowly slips beneath the lashing psychological waves of Hollywood. Safe haven no longer found in Martian Promises, but the, “Multiplex hex of Tom Cruise,” as the keys fall ever more frantically off the rails. The cacophony builds and builds, stormclouds turning themselves inside out, until:
With an even more extreme example of the climactic deflation of tension first presented in “You Let My Tyres Down,” the building heat doesn’t so much interrupt the track as evaporate it. The song is collapsed to a dirge for the Pop Culture funeral procession. I’m gonna miss you most, Scarecrow. Happy Days won’t be here again.
’s perpetually escalating panic attack is here overcome with apathy, dissociation. The energy doesn’t regain it’s footing after “Soft Power.” Instead, it pivots into psychedelic ambiance on instrumental “Shellfish Toxin.” Fragments of guitar float in and out of consciousness. Wordless chants drift in from somewhere, wail, disappear again. The brain is melted and leaks onto the concrete.
The last couple tracks return to some semblance of a structure, but it is irreparably changed. If most of the record soundtracks a gleefully paranoid implosion, these last two mourn the loss with steady builds and pointing fingers. Pointed at the Tech Boom valley engineers and the footprints of capitalism stamped with comparable force onto both the landscapes and the minds it has colonized. “Take me on a holiday. Put me on an aeroplane. I want a BMW.” Fiona’s alternating two bar bassline grips “Rubber Bullies” from its opening guitar bounce to its deadly sober conclusion. If the opening half of the record drove itself to madness searching for a salvation as out of reach as a desert mirage, this last stretch reacclimates to a world stuck on two notions: hope is probably pointless, and not giving enough of a shi
t about that fact to still have hope is just about the only chance of finding a point.
A Laughing Death in Meatspace
is scathing and vicious. It is buoyant, easily excitable, and prone to fits. It is the accompaniment to a world overcome by insane absurdity, intuitively understands that you have to lose your mind to keep up. We’re probably all doomed, so crank up the distortion, grab your chips and your bricks and smash as many windows as you can reach. It’s a block party. What’s the worst that can happen when the worst is happening?