4 out of 5
Label: Joyful Noise
Produced by: ?
Across several weird, nigh-brilliant albums / EPs of fractured indie pop, Marmoset carved out their own little niche of lo-fi unpredictability, erring towards a simplistic, primal beat, college rock sound, pushed towards Thinking Fellers playfulness here, Pavement wanderings there, with splashes of crassness and punk thrown in for flavor. Over the years, their formula inevitably sharpened, stripping away some of the more willfully random diversions, while still maintaining a core offhand vibe that allowed for that Marmoset, bass-driven, plodding drummed sound to be pushed around as needed, juxtaposing Jorma Whittaker’s doldrummed vocals with some childish, or misleadingly simplistic lyrics.
Tea Tornado isn’t necessarily Marmoset “matured,” as all the main tenets are still very much in effect, but it is the most streamlined version of what they do. Some songs are boppier, some have some atonal gang vocals and rocked-up elements, but these aren’t of the same zig vs. zag variety as the group previously played with, and tonally, instead of a band singing about sadness with a smile, or denying it all with a grin, you have some sober-minded adults, swaying to music being pumped from the backroom, more up front with sometimes not being able to smile through it all. That might sound worse – like it’s old folks’ rock, or less emotionally affecting – but it’s more that it feels honest, whereas Marmoset has always otherwise carried around a veneer of slacker disaffection and distancing. This results in a remarkably consistent album, one that never sacrifices its immersion for a one-off goof, and thus allows the group’s brilliance in combining singalong with seriousness to come to the fore, even if that also lends itself to some general restraint – Tea Tornado may be lacking in those standout Marmoset singles that get stuck in your head, but it’s the most front-to-back solid album of their careers.