3 out of 5
Label: Joyful Noise
Produced by: Dodgy Brothers, Gareth Liddiard, Mike Deslandes (recorded by)
It’s 2019. The world – politically, socially – feels like a mess, maybe moreso than ever before for those who started life in the 80s and beyond, and in America, it felt like we were on the verge of frightening, this-can’t-be-happening type things. Maybe whatever time it is now, when you’re reading this, things have changed, but even a couple of years later with some positive shifts, reverberations and troubles or still being felt; are still visible on the horizon.
Art-punkers Tropical Fuck Storm bundle all of this fear and its twin sister anger into single The Planet of Straw Men, one of the most biting bit of anti-rah rah politicking I’ve heard that hasn’t made me roll me eyes a bit. Such music will almost always have a place, of course, whether it’s of the rather generic “fuck authority” type, or something very, very specific, but unless you’re absolutely “in” whatever the subject matter is the track maligns, it can come across as dated or rather immature. Straw Men’s brilliance, then, is in how far-reaching its lyrics can be – how always applicable they likely are; and yet how clearly they are designed for a specific time and place.
Of course, the point of such screeds is generally to be heard, and for that reason, TFS dial back their percussion-y clatter and gang vocals to center on a springy bass line, and Gareth Liddiard speak-shouting the words to us, with the group joining in for some noise on the chorus. As things go along, Liddard gets more and more unhinged, until the track breaks down into TFS’ outre rock stylings for its conclusion. Centering on the words is not wrong – they’re excellent, and worth hearing, but it does make the song more of a lead-in to something more propulsive than a standalone single. That is, it feels like it’s ready for a suite of songs to follow.
So to counter this, the group goes goofy on the B-side, bringing in their all-hands-on style for a cover of Missy Elliott’s Can’t Stop. Is it fun? You betcha. TFS tends to use a sort of flat production style, though, and it undercuts the fun beat of Missy’s original song; I almost would’ve wished they’d hewed closer to the source style (at least in terms of mixing) to really bring out the dance party fun as a juxtaposition to Straw Men.