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Cashmere Cat - Princess Catgirl Music Album Reviews

The Norwegian producer invents a Vocaloid-inspired feline character and retreats from the spotlit pop of his last album, returning to the introspective hush of his earlier work.
After all these years, Cashmere Cat is still shy. The musician born Magnus August Høiberg has nearly a decade of prismatic productions under his belt, which has led to appearances on the big stages at EDM festivals, collaborations with childhood heroes, and studio time with the biggest pop stars in the world. On some level, Høiberg has had to adjust to the practicalities that this success requires. He once wouldn’t even do in-person interviews, but a few years ago he finally decided to open up about his life story in a music video. One would imagine he’s no longer hiding in a bathroom, as a friend of his once described, when DJ Khaled unexpectedly turns up at the studio.

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Tropical Fuck Storm - Braindrops Music Album Reviews

The Melbourne punk quartet sift through the grubbiest entrails of politics and internet culture, but their perspective sounds stilted.

With their 2018 single “Soft Power,” Melbourne quartet Tropical Fuck Storm wrote a eulogy for a world addled and spent by toxic internet culture. The sluggish garage blues number cycled from nuclear arms to class inequality to the impending release of Top Gun 2, unable to bring anything into focus. By the time it was over, lead singer Gareth Liddiard was glitching, drowning in a sea of cultural ephemera: “Bye bye Richie, Chachi, Fonzie, Ralphy, and Joanie Cunningham,” he mumbled, finding final solace in thoughts of the Happy Days gang. It was a disturbingly visceral interrogation of the ways we distract ourselves.

But it’s hard to strike gold twice. On their sophomore record Braindrops, which arrives just a year after last year’s A Laughing Death in Meatspace, Tropical Fuck Storm are still sifting through the grubbiest entrails of politics and internet culture, but their perspective sounds stilted. Where once he came across as a kind of greasy, tweaking prophet, Liddiard is now, more often than not, an orator with nothing to say.

If anyone’s qualified to make music about all-encompassing terror, it ought to be Tropical Fuck Storm. As part of legendary art-punks the Drones, guitarist Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin dissected Australia’s toxic nationalism; keyboard player and guitarist Erica Dunn leads punk trio MOD CON, whose 2018 debut seethed with anti-capitalist fury; and Lauren Hammel is the drummer of ferocious anti-colonial metal band High Tension. Liddiard and Kitschin recruited Dunn and Hammel in 2017, after deciding to retire their 20-year-old Drones project in favor of a band with more women involved. Less than a year later, they released Meatspace, a twisted polemic against asinine political discourse and self-destructive internet echo chambers.

But Braindrops isn’t animated by the same vigor and depth of thought, and Liddiard’s verbose witticisms now border on the insufferable. Lead single “The Planet of Straw Men,” ostensibly about the corruption of the Chinese and Russian governments, rambles abstractly about how states attempt to distract their citizens. It feels like tiresome galaxy-brain babble, itself an over-complicated attempt to distract from the fact that all points made are incredibly obvious. Even the satisfyingly irregular phrasing of Liddiard and Dunn’s twitchy yelps—“They’re always going for the coup de grâce!”—can’t make those words meaningful. Similarly, “The Happiest Guy Around” aims to make a point about the self-perpetuating nature of online arguments, but can’t find a greater conclusion than, “When you ever gonna learn to let things go?”
Liddiard has cited Captain Beefheart as an influence on Braindrops, and you can hear the angular, upsetting rhythms of Trout Mask Replica and Doc at the Radar Station in more upbeat tracks like “Straw Men” and “Happiest Guy Around.” But Braindrops is more interesting when it leaves this realm. Album highlight “Who’s My Eugene?”, written and sung by Dunn about the notoriously unethical psychotherapist Eugene Landy, rides a hypnotic industrial chug that eventually slides into a convulsing, fuzzed-out denouement. The record’s slow, quiet final stretch coheres in a way the rest of Braindrops fails to: The introspective “Aspirin” plods and clatters, vividly conjuring the discomfort of glimpsing an ex at the gas station.

Too often Braindrops’ commentary feels arbitrary or pro forma, but eight-minute closer “Maria 63” reconjures the album’s missing pathos. The song tells a fabricated story of Maria Orsic, a mysterious and, in Liddiard’s estimation, entirely fake Nazi witch exalted by online conspiracists. In Tropical Fuck Storm’s telling, Orsic is a trickster capable of duping even a keen-eyed Mossad agent. It’s not just a ham-fisted fake news allegory; like “Soft Power,” it’s an engrossing, haunted fable, a way to link society’s obsession with conspiracy to our basic needs for security and comfort. It’s proof that Tropical Fuck Storm are still clever when they want to be, able to channel obsessive rage into real insight. Braindrops could’ve used more like it.

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