It was the silence as much as the disease that proved so unsettling. The world had gone inside, underground, taking with it some of its more destructive aspects. The clean and clear air in major cities was a jarring reminder of the airborne rot we had grown used to. Stuck indoors, we went stir crazy, imagined new worlds, dystopian worlds, apocalypses of the small and large variety. There were viral social media stories, most of them fake, about animals reoccupying cities, dolphins taking back the canals of Venice, elephants getting drunk in abandoned Chinese corn wine distilleries and passing out in tea gardens. In those first fearful days of the pandemic, we wrote ourselves out of existence and imagined what the world would be like without us. We missed the noise; we carried it inside us. We tried to find melody in the madness.
Most of us have lived some inner Tropical Fuck Storm over this past year and a half. Gareth Liddiard, frontman for the Aussie band with a name perfectly suited to the times, was like the rest of us in feeling the malaise. On not writing any new songs for the first six months of the global shutdown, he says, “Why would I? Everything seemed pointless.” Even for a band that’s made a career out of crafting songs attuned to political and social crisis, there was a new bleak in the air, what the band calls “give-a-fuck fatigue.” A Laughing Death in Meatspace and Braindrops, Tropical Fuck Storm’s 2018 and 2019 records, probed the destructive force of consumerist culture, the imperialistic reaches of the United States, the threat posed by a warming planet. The band wedded a brave new worldview to an ever lively acid punk sound. Which made you sometimes despair. While still wanting to dance.
Their third LP, Deep States mines familiar ground as well as new cultural terrains, while digging deeper into the subjective state of contemporary panic. Over the last five years, you didn’t have to be conspiratorial to see the conspiracies everywhere you turned; and Liddiard, Fiona Kitschin, Erica Dunn, and Lauren Hammel, the Tropical Fuck Storm collective, know how to make friends with the strange. They invite our paranoia and fatigue. “It’s a permanent state,” Liddiard sings, “war made the State, the State made war, what’s the point of worrying ’bout it anymore?” The band chronicles weird adventures in statecraft and surveillance, ponders the global infatuation with resurgent fascisms. Tropical Fuck Storm shines an incandescent light on a world in which corporate media, bad-faith leaders, and charismatics of all stripes lose the ability to recognize their own deceptiveness.
At times we’re tempted to call Deep States a protest album, though it’s not, quite. The band is far too wary of the self-importance attached to songs in the didactic mode. “We make pop records,” Liddiard says, “that don’t deny we’re all in a bit of trouble here.” But Tropical Fuck Storm does their preaching on the sly, always cognizant of the fact they are making pop music, after all, no matter how avant-garde or “out there” it gets.
For us, what makes Tropical Fuck Storm so great is the intersection between their dark but satiric storytelling and musical arrangements intent on perverting received canons and wisdoms. Entering into a Tropical Fuck Storm song is like arriving late to a live show where everybody’s grooving and too far gone to notice you. Even though the track has already been cut, you feel as though the band’s still improvising, making it all up as you listen. These are songs as experiments, advancing and retreating at their own idiosyncratic, deeply
unsettling pace. They hang on the slant beat and slide into jazzy, distortion-packed jams so tumultuous they’d make Charlie Mingus proud.
Musically, Deep States goes wherever it wants, riffing on pop, R&B, Talking Heads-style new wave, Delta blues, Tom Waits, and some of the band’s hip-hop favourites such as Wu-Tang Clan and Missy Elliot. Barriers aren’t just broken, they seem to have completely fallen away.
As we write this, parts of the world are opening up, or trying to. But Tropical Fuck Storm is here to remind us that many of our most urgent political and social problems have been around a long time now. Same as it ever was, as another genre bending band once sang. As the signs of the latest crisis subside, and the dull ache of awareness with it, Deep States will be here to remind us that there is no foreseeable end to human folly, nor, fortunately, to the creativity that resists it. Over the past few years, we’ve all heard the noise in our own heads. Tropical Fuck Storm has made music of it.
R. Clifton Spargo & Anne K. Ream
Release: August 20, 2021, TFS Record