Madness drips from every facet of Braindrops.
1. Break up your old band who had ascended to legendary status
2. Reform with a middle finger in your name
3. Tour the world
4. Mold the new outfit in a crucible of fire with one of the most righteously insane rock albums of the decade.
Tropical Fuck Storm did all that in a year and a half. You’d think that would tire them out. But the screwball carnival of rock’n’roll rushes on.
TFS was birthed from the dismantling of Aussie rock staples The Drones, keeping core members Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin alongside a mightily fucked up sense of what rock is. Their debut, A Laughing Death in Meatspace, was a sprawling force, mutated blues and chopped and screwed industrial funneled through dispatches from the apocalypse. But if A Laughing Death was the Climate Crisis unfurling into holocaust, follow up Braindrops is the sound of the desert slowly draping the world in sand and silence.
Madness drips from every facet of Braindrops, but this is a starker, dreary record. It’s the quiet that permeated the mourning second half of A Laughing Death highlight “Soft Power.” It is a harrowing listen. At least on A Laughing Death, you could do your best Strangelove, yeehawing as the bomb hurtled to earth. There’s no hedonism to hide in here.
Even the album cover looks like a drained version of A Laughing Death’s maximalist violence. That’s the sonic through line as well. TFS sound exhausted; the weariness underlines the lyrics perfectly as they lurch their way through propaganda, Twitter wars, paranoia, media conglomerates and anything else that can turn the brain into Swiss cheese. Similar to the yelping dread of Everything Everything, Braindrops shudders with fear, wondering if psychosis is the only acceptable mental state for the modern world.
There’s Kurt Vonnegut bent to the lyrics, equal parts absurd and devastating. The title track, a song of the year contender, has Liddiard slurring monstrous visions of an Ouroboros formed from a snake up its own ass and heads smashed like “watermelons” on the pavement. Meanwhile, a doctor watches on, wondering when he’ll have enough cash for a hair transplant. The song runs through the pretentious notes of physics, therapists, psychologists and brain surgeons studying the manic movement of an anxious mind, but in a sterile way, avoiding emotions making it “hard to tell how far you are from knowing your heart.” In Braindrops, insanity or ignorance seem to be the two choices for survival.
“Braindrops” is the best example of TFS’ shuddering songwriting with layers of sound slowly percolating upward, subtly changing until the next chorus seems unrecognizable from the first. The guitar lines sound like rusty door hinges and the band are jamming some form of brittle funk. Considering their recent B-sides include covers of Missy Elliot and The Bee Gees the corroded rhythms aren’t surprises. Liddiard has professed his love for Ice-T and some of the low end does sound like gangrene soaked hip-hop. The delightfully janky lines are from Lauren Hammel fusing her drum kit with the electronics, making an uncanny groove underneath Liddard’s screeds.
When Spectrum Culture interviewed TFS earlier this year, Liddard spoke on his fear of social media taking over the world, seeing the uploading of the self as “this constant Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads,” in reference to younger folks mixing the real and online worlds, curating their lives into an unrecognizable perfection they had to match in real life. But beyond, that he also thought it was changing the very way we think. Early in the album he howls “it’s like you’re half the fucking neurons in my skull,” and it’s hard to tell if he’s singing to a jilted lover or the all-consuming need to keep up with horrific news. And he surmises those fears in both “Maria 62” and “Maria 63.” The duo is a concoction of conspiracy theories of Qanon proportions involving Venus, Argentine Nazis and assassinations that manages be an emotional haymaker. When “Maria 63” explodes into a howling hurricane of vocals and misfiring guitars, it feels like the whole album has been waiting to tear itself apart. It is self-destruction as catharsis, a whole album of tension and fear finally erased by an act of musical immolation.