Records made in the midst of the pandemic showed us the impressive spectrum of approaches to it that musicians have adopted. Some document their mental state, some create a fantasy to transcend this experience. Tropical Fuck Storm do both and more. The Aussie outfit have come to be known for the socially and politically-charged lyrics on their previous two releases, 2018’s A Laughing Death in Meatspace and 2019’s Braindrops, and they continue channeling these themes on their latest, Deep States.
Another thing that gets added to the mix this time around is pure dread – the kind that we all got to experience, at least at the start of the pandemic. The first six months after the emergence of COVID-19 were fruitless for band leader Gareth Liddiard, and he was unable to work on new material; “Why would I? Everything seemed pointless,” he stated. Deep States is drenched in that nihilism, which the band combat in the only way they know how to manage their feelings about the world: creativity.
Something that has always worked for Tropical Fuck Storm (and Liddiard’s previous band The Drones) is the fondness for anything weird and so to speak ‘out there’. One of the biggest reasons this works is that there isn’t a single aspect of their music where they don’t allow that weirdness to permeate. Deep States continues this tradition and progresses it forward, becoming seemingly even less structured and harder to follow than the band’s previous releases. This perfectly aids with the expression of their dread, or pretty much any emotion that we experienced during lockdown.
The various approaches to the pandemic and the anxieties that it awakened or worsened may have felt disjointed and inconsistent on most any other records, but not on Tropical Fuck Storm’s. Deep States does feel a bit all over the place, but what works for it (as it does for everything Liddiard has been involved with) is the overpowering confidence with which it is performed. Most songs feel like stepping into the middle of an improv session, and the lyrics at first may seem to be conjured up on the spot (although on closer inspection it is obvious that this is not the case). However, the abrasive and uncompromising presentation of this material leaves the listener with the firm understanding that it could not have been put in other words or played any other way.
In the lyrics, most everyone can find something to resonate with. Although mostly focused on various conspiracies and grim events, Liddiard flips them on their heads, as on “Blue Dream Baby” where he makes us sympathize with someone like Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot as she tried to breach the U.S. Capitol. There’s also “G.A.F.F.” – or “Give A Fuck Fatigue”, as coined by the frontperson – which certainly can be understood by most listeners, as we’ve all found ourselves running out of patience and empathy after a year of endless horrific headlines.
Gareth Liddiard’s vocal delivery, which seems to be an everlasting emulator of that of Nick Cave, also aids in getting their messages across. Similar to his aforementioned countryman, Liddiard paints bleak pictures out of most any inspiration, but the fundamental difference between their writing styles is the fact that the Tropical Fuck Storm singer always bases his stories in pressing reality, whereas Cave goes with wherever his imagination leads him.
With Deep States, Tropical Fuck Storm have made one of the grimmest records of the pandemic era. However, it also stands out from the others as its material does not end with the pandemic; it warns that, with the world attempting to reopen, we are going to be thrown into a reality that needs to be fundamentally fixed – but we are going to be so exhausted from battling COVID that for a good while we will let it slide, and more damage may be done. Where their previous albums could be labeled as ‘protest records’, with their emphasis on real-world issues, Deep States drowns in despair with lyrics such as “nobody listens to me anyway”, “it doesn’t really matter who you talk with now”, “what’s the point of worrying ‘bout it anymore?”.