From the opening moments, the dystopian image is clear. “You Let My Tyres Down” starts with dueling guitars seemingly duking it out for control over the song. Their opposition drives much of the track and mirrors frontman Gareth Liddiard’s tales of Australian Anarchy where “a child was mauled by bullets” and families are “anchored only to each other/on a sea of Vodka Cruisers.” Fionna Kitchsin’s polished bassline attempts to insert a voice of reason amongst the calamity, counterbalancing the crepitating lead and filling the more subdued moments of the chorus. Aside from the unnecessary third, and really even the second, refrain of the outro, all the layers mesh to form this abrasive meld of blues riffs and feedback dancing over a colorful backdrop of misery. Its eventual collapse from the pressure of all its combatting voices perfectly sets the stage for the multifaceted apocalypse that is the rest of the album.
There’s a lot driving humanity to its ultimate demise, but at the center of this album’s ideology lies a resounding belief that the powers that be are fast-tracking us to the end. “Soft Power” even goes as far as to reference a certain “oompa loompa with the nukes” who rides “his fly blown drone, like there ain’t no one home,” calling out the apparent aimlessness of one of the world’s most powerful leaders. Just as he appears to make life changing decisions for millions on a whim, the cascading guitars seem to just haphazardly fall into place. The song lures you in with its psychedelic hypnotic backing female chants and meandering guitars only to erratically hit you with sharp pangs of industrial synths. This calculated chaos courses through the song and reflects the practice of destabilizing other countries as a means of providing a sense of internal security.
“Much like the unfortunate victims of the disease and fueled by a revolt against customs, the debut album from the newly formed Tropical Fuck Storm captures that same feeling of being forced to sit back and watch your world warp beyond recognition.“
However appalling you may find those driving the current state of world affairs, Tropical Fuck Storm merely regards them as a representation of the people who elected them. The world leaders may be the one pulling the trigger, but if you handed them the gun, you’re just as guilty. In the classic directness of punk, on “Two Afternoons” the group lashes out against the prevailing xenophobic trends with “Your politics ain’t nothing but a fond fuck you” highlighting how many will use political affiliation as a justification for the mistreatment and even abuse of others. Even the guitars engage in a sinister call and response, suggesting you, an outsider, are the subject of their scornful dialogue. To those blinded by their own ignorance, they drive the message even further with Liddiard shouting “No one sees the window they are waving through.” It makes a point of addressing how easily people can unknowingly look at and judge another from the safety of your own self-imposed barriers.
If the overt political overtones haven’t scared you off, it’s worth noting that this is still a record that can be enjoyed by all. This may be the musical embodiment of the world crumbling right before your eyes, but at the same time it’s easily one of the most fun pieces to have come out this year. They’re constantly diving into weighty subject matters but at the same time almost beg to not be taken too seriously. It’s remarkable that something so heavy and hectic can at the same time be so accessible. At every turn the pessimistic world views find a necessary counter in the group’s uncanny sense of humor.
I’d challenge you to find a better framing device for the angst of the impending rise of the machines than “The Future of History.” For a title that points forward, it’s an interesting move for them to instead go backwards and look at the battle between Grandmaster Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue. It’s full of cheeky digs, from Liddiard’s likening of Kasparov to a rockstar to the Grandmaster declaring he could never lose to a traffic light. The music complements the humor, and Fionna’s fuzzy, textured bass line steals the show and, along with the backing synths, give the track an infectious bounciness. This may be the prologue to the takeover of robots, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a good time.
Speaking of a good time, the song “Chameleon Paint” has serious funk. The dressed up guitars have just the right amount of feedback to give it a great twang when struck that really livens things up. Aside from the whirlwind of noise before the bridge, all the muddled distortion and the intoxicating vibrato off the slide guitar saturate the song in a really nice bluesy feel. Lauren Hammel settles into a simple but nice rhythm while Gareth casually drops some social commentary scorning the popular “thoughts & prayers” mentality with “FYI a POV don’t make an NGO.” Active participation in positive change is the major takeaway here, and if you’re not participating, you’re one of the biggest contributors to the decadence of society. The critique may be sharp, but the delivery is bouncy and free, making for either deep thought or a light-hearted jam.
For all the ravaging intensity on most of the album, Tropical Fuck Storm also display a surprising competence for navigating the other end of the spectrum. “Shellfish Toxin” may call back to Feelin Kinda Free’s “Sometimes,” but if anything was going to clue you in to the fact that this band is much more than a Drones spinoff, this is it. Liddiard’s voice is nowhere to be found, and in his place are strangely soothing, swimming synths. The doomsday from the previous track may have been abandoned, but the beauty quickly fades into a depraved nightmare filled with wicked shrills and murky keys.
This leads into the final two tracks, the first of which truly encapsulates the spirit of all the ideas expressed throughout the album. Liddiard may be at his most resigned, but that doesn’t stop him from delivering his most evocative performance of the entire tape. The final cut “Rubber Bullies” works in a similar vein but doesn’t quite have the same punch as the penultimate track. It’s one of the few missteps, but only pales in comparison because the bar had already been set so high.
A Laughing Death in Meatspace refuses to be pigeonholed. The socio-political concerns are timely and on point while the grooves are tight and captivating. But at the end of the day you can unpack as much or as little as you like without limiting your enjoyment. Like the disease for which it is named, once you’ve been infected, there is no escaping it until everything around you is as dire as it is laughable. The Australian quartet has reached a peak no one could have expected and show no signs of stopping any time soon. In what is hopefully the beginning of a long and prolific career, Tropical Fuck Storm is already poised atop the mountain, looking down on us while we eat the same brains they warned us to stay away from.