BY MICHAEL TOLAND
The hiatus of Australia’s amazing Drones was a shock coming after its upward creative arc, but all is not lost for fans of their distinctive arty psychedelic postpunk roots rock. Singer/songwriter Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin keep the vision flowing with drummer Lauren Hammel and guitarist/keyboardist Erica Dunn in Tropical Fuck Storm, named after the Drones’ self-guided label. Given how weird and eclectic the Drones had become by the end, A Laughing Death in Meatspace is both a retrenchment and an evolution.
The empty spaces and electronic atmospheres have been folded into the background, with guitars back up front and in your face. Kitschin and Dunn soak the arrangements in wild-eyed harmonies and Liddiard’s brilliantly wordy lyrics and off-kilter melodies are in full effect. Yet it would be inaccurate to call this any kind of return to form (a dubious compliment anyway). Having a new crew always changes things, and the band recalls the Drones’ best without being a clone. The social media critique “Chameleon Paint” starts like it’s going to be synthpop, but layers fractured guitar lines over the groove almost immediately; add in a singalong chorus and it’s something new yet familiar. “Soft Power” attacks the subtle abuses perpetrated by those at the top of the food chain across a smear of shrieking feedback, understated drums and Dunn/Kitschin’s otherworldly backgrounds. “Two Afternoons” adds a loping rhythm to its raging six-stream firestorm in a way unique to this group, while “Shellfish Toxin” skips lyrics for a deliberately meandering instrumental that takes Liddiard into new territory. (Below: vinyl enthusiasts will want to snag the “slime green” edition of the record while it’s still available.)
As always with most of the best restless experimenters, TFS know when to lay back and let some recognizable allure take the wheel – “You Let My Tyres Down” recalls the old group’s balladry, the rambling “Rubber Bullies” stands as classic Liddiard, and the nervous “The Future of History” would’ve fit right in on Feelin’ Kinda Free. It’s a combination of old and new, letting Liddiard play to his strengths as a writer while letting a new band paint his compositions in different colors. That blend of comfort and risk makes A Laughing Death in Meatspace one of the best rock records of 2018.
DOWNLOAD: “Rubber Bullies,” “Chameleon Paint,” “You Let My Tyres Down”