Hope isn’t exactly what TFS is dealing.
Rock’s got plenty of villains. Chaotic Neutral incarnate Iggy Pop is still kicking, Josh Homme’s last record was completely dedicated to his debaucherous pastimes and Ghost are the finest bunch of Satan worshipers in decades. But we also need our antiheroes time to time. The grimy thugs who speak truth while coughing up blood. You wouldn’t want them at a dinner party, but you’d absolutely have them on your team in the apocalypse.
Gareth Liddiard is rock’n’roll’s heel in chief: uproariously funny, brutally honest and guided by a complete contempt of bullshit, nearly to an uncomfortable degree. The Aussie rocker’s most famous outings have come with scumbags The Drones, who played a curdled version of power-pop coated with a nasty film of post-punk. Seven albums into The Drones’ tenure, Liddiard has put the band on hiatus to focus on his newest project, the amazingly named Tropical Fuck Storm.
Distinctions between The Drones and TFS at first seem minor. Liddiard and Drones bassist Fiona Kitschin are still here, with fellow Australians Erica Dunn and Lauren Hammel covering guitar and bass respectively. The mix is still fuzzy, the guitars still terrifying, the vocals covered in dust. But there’s a newfound focus on A Laughing Death in Meatspace. The Drones were an explicitly political band, but TFS is even sharper in their dissections of corruption and xenophobia in a melting world.
Meatspace begins with “You Let My Tyres Down” a blues-rock titan worthy of Cream’s finest freakouts. Though Liddiard samples “Australia’s finest homemade coke,” this isn’t an ode to illicit benders. Instead, it’s a frightful character study of a renegade youth who’s in jail for attacking a mall cop. It seems like an Always Sunny in Philadelphia joke, until Liddiard points out “she’s right there on CCTV, forgetting to take her medication” and mentions her family would rather her just rot there, lest her plea deal paint them in a negative light. Later a kid gets gunned down in front of the same shopping center as Liddiard drives by, high out of his mind.
“You Let My Tyres Down” informs Meatspace both on lyrical and musical content. Something feels broken about the instruments. The guitars just a microtone off, the drums shuddering on the beat and the bass creeping up like kudzu vines. This perfectly complements Liddiard’s sharp eye for systems rusting and breaking into pieces, taking human sacrifice as they groan their last.
“The Future of History” has a deliciously corrupted groove. It’s probably the sexiest song about chess ever made, following, and embellishing, the matches between Garry Kasparov and the supercomputer Deep Blue. “If you ain’t worried they’re gonna to do your work for you/ You’ll recall they said the same thing about farming too,” Liddiard snarls, imagining the very possible future where the robots taking all the work isn’t a utopia, but a hellscape of inequality. He further expounds on technological nightmares on the title track, falling into the shoes of some nebbish nerd who ignores the bombs dropping outside by retreating further and further into his desktop.
In the same vein, he flips a not so elegant bird to armchair commentators and airhead TV personalities on “Chameleon Paint.” “Those who can’t, teach/ Those who don’t, speech” he growls. “And all this scot-free moralising’s got/ Me quite demoralized” he admits, scrolling through Twitter and seeing a cavalcade of internet warriors who never get off their asses.
Despite references to Greek philosophers and ancient Japanese literature, Liddiard doesn’t mince his words or meaning. He cuts directly to the chase on “Soft Power,” the cumulation of his fury at the techies and the Facebook culture wars. The constant shouting from Democrats of “they go low, we go high” falls deaf on his jaded ears when he’s staring “Oompa Loompa with the nukes” in the eyes. “Fuck soft power” he hollers, demanding an end to hand-wringing, “influence” and “persuasion” as the rules of combat when the other side is wielding a flamethrower. “Soft Power” cuts off mid-yelp, like the goon squad finally cracked down on this nuttiness, leaving a ghostly chorus in the wake of the rip-roaring guitar. “Now you’ve gone and fucked everything up,” he whispers.
Hope isn’t exactly what TFS is dealing. They’re a bunch of righteous dirtbags who’d never want to be anyone’s heroes. But their simple plea of “how can you condemn someone for simply being someone else” rings out as powerfully as any of the guitar solos in the midst of this squalling mess. They’re already seeing Mad Maxian futures that are rapidly becoming present realities and might just know how to survive.