Tropical Fuck Storm, “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” (Joyful Noise)
Melbourne, Australia quartet Tropical Fuck Storm sound as if their hearts are too big for their chest cavities. They often come off as a stadium-rock band who would derisively snort at the very idea of stadium rock. Nevertheless, they're prone to penning anthems, albeit ones that have just enough discord in their chords to temper any potential bombast. They're at their best when at their weirdest, as on “Desert Sands of Venus” from 2019's Braindrops. It's a strangely tuned, woozy reverie that could be a hit on the titular planet.
After listening to their three studio albums, it's clear that TFS have too much integrity to stoop to the easy option. Now, that doesn't mean everything they do succeeds (I'd prefer guitarist Gareth Liddiard to spend less time inelegantly blustering on the mic), but you have to admire the boldness of the group's vision.
TFS were set to tour North America in the early part of 2023, but bassist/vocalist Fiona Kitschin was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, causing them to cancel their West Coast dates. To tide fans over during this sad chapter in TFS's career, their label, Joyful Noise, is dropping an EP of covers, Submersive Behaviour, with the Stooges' “Ann” and Jimi Hendrix Experience's “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” the most recognizable tunes among the five here. The rendition of “Ann” maintains the original's staggered and dazed mood but sweetens it with vocals by Kitschin, and the gender switch makes it more subversive. Bonus: TFS really lean into the song's guitar freakout segment.
But on the nearly 18-minute “1983,” TFS seriously stretch themselves into the aqua-cosmic and escapist mindset of Electric Ladyland-era Hendrix. They begin with a straightforward interpretation, respectful toward the source material. Around five minutes in, TFS unmoor themselves from the song proper and set sail to mystical realms, signified by tintinnabulating percussion instruments, sparse guitar peregrinations, and warped, elfin chants out of a DMT trip. There's no doubt that these Aussies excel at swelling to majestic dimensions. After 10 minutes of freeform exploration, TFS return to “1983”'s memorably florid melody, and aptly garland it with staccato blasts of feedback. Fade out with seagull cries. Fin.
Debt Rag, “Cognitive Whirlpool” (Post Present Medium)
Down in Olympia, a newish trio called Debt Rag are creating a ruckus that they call “adult punk.” You can tell it's adult because it seethes with justified crankiness and rejects adolescent punk's most obvious traits. The players—percussionist Lillian Maring, bassist Marissa Magic, and keyboardist/trumpeter Max Nordile—have put in time with Grass Widow, Preening, Wet Drag, and many other underground-music agitators.
After their self-released 2021 debut EP, \\\\\\\\\\\, Debt Rag signed to No Age drummer Dean Spunt's excellent Post Present Medium label and they've come through with a bracing slap to the face of rock decorum in the form of Lost to the Fantasy.
With most of the 10 songs under two minutes and the longest at 3:10, Lost to the Fantasy makes a virtue of brevity. Musically, Debt Rag revel in busting structural protocols and shoot the bird at proper tunings, with Nordile's keyboards particularly nasty, with the sort of timbres and rude intrusiveness of which fans of Brainiac and Six Finger Satellite will approve. As a bonus, his trumpet playing has the chilling clamor of early A Certain Ratio. Marissa Magic's bass patrols the low end with OG post-punk authority.
All of Debt Rag's members sing as if the odds have been stacked against them since birth. “Barf on USA” conveys the general attitude here, as Nordile barks, “No compassion, no imagination/If you're in office/You make me fucking nauseous.” The hyper-caffeinated “Say Ah!” is like riding a rickety roller-coaster while receiving electroshock therapy. Throughout the album, Debt Rag have taken John Lydon's sentiment from PiL's “Rise”—“anger is an energy”—as a motivational slogan.
On the lead single, “Cognitive Whirlpool,” the bass creeps with the stealth of Gang of Four's “Paralysed,” but over the top of it the keyboards, vocals, trumpet, and cowbell express a mental state of emergency, an attempt to cope with the nerve-wracking deadline pressure of the corporate world. Brilliantly titled, “Cognitive Whirlpool” is an all-too-relatable condition, and Debt Rag have conceived a riveting sonic analog for it.