Is Tropical - Native To - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Is Tropical - Native To

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2011-06-13

There's a sense that the zeitgeist might have passed for Is Tropical. When Soundblab reviewed a Leeds live gig by the boys back in early 2010, they were co-headlining with Egyptian Hip Hop with support from Yuck. Out of these three, it seemed highly unlikely that the slavish 90s alt-rock copyism of Yuck would see that band leap ahead of the other more inventive sounds of the other two, and yet that's what happened. Yuck can now be found in the pages of NME and on TV at Jools Holland's pleasure.

Some of this might be down to the sad trend of musical conservatism which pervades much UK music at the moment, so much so that Simon Reynolds has devoted a whole book to the subject, Retromania. Yuck are, at heart, music revivalists in the exact same way Showaddywaddy and Mud were. But then again, the problem might be down to Is Tropical themselves.

The band's early gigs saw them adopting a striking, masked and leather-garbed look which couldn't help but be deflated by the music they made. Not that Is Tropical aren't talented lads, but their music just isn't what you'd expect to hear from a band sporting their electro-rocking, road warrior look. Despite their heavy deployment of synths and beats, there's a wistfulness, an aching romance to their music which puts one in mind of no one so much as The Libertines, a reference point which, in retro-fetishistic 2011, is perhaps a little too recent to be cool.

Thankfully, this debut album sees the band move away from such overt Doherty-isms. They also largely leave behind unhelpful similarities to wretched landfill indie chancers Larrikin Love and former golden boys Klaxons. Instead, the album's sound is closer to Metronomy, especially in its very successful melding of electronic and acoustic sounds.

Opening track 'South Pacific' sees the band hit the ground running, sounding like dream-pop given a glitter gun shot in the arse. New single 'The Greeks' is another big hitter, the oblique subject matter chiming with a counter-intuitive but somehow perfect mix of mandolin riff, electro-bass and Balearic synth. The single is accompanied by a memorable video mixing live action and animation, depicting kids dealing drugs and play-killing each other. This could be the track which finally breaks the band. If not, 'Land of Nod', with its irresistibly sunny, off-kilter rhythm, could prove a secret weapon, as could 'Berlin', a sparkly moment of synth-balladry which has 'potential single' scrawled all over it in day-glo marker.

Elsewhere, however, there's a sameness and a lack of big moments. This isn't helped by some tracks which sound like dance-pop twonk Calvin Harris, 'Lies' being the big offender here. Of course, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with sounding a bit Calvin Harris; his production of 'Dance Wiv Me' for Dizzee proved he can knock out a great tune when he wants to, but this similarity speaks to the biggest problem with Native To. Large parts of it are just a little too inoffensive, hovering just on the right side of being alternative.

In an interview with Soundblab last year, the band insisted they're happy to be thought of as making dance music. That's a fine and noble, if not exactly original, mission statement for a band to have, but much of Native To doesn't back the claim up. Too many tracks, such as 'I'll Take My Chances' and 'Oranges', fall between serviceable indie and passable synth-pop. Final track 'Seasick Mutiny', dating from their first single, is the only one to really duck this template. Unfortunately, with it's sea shanty-meets-90s Nintendo sounds, it's the most annoying thing on the album.

However, this isn't to say Native To is a failure. Even if it is, it's an interesting one, with a clutch of great tracks. It's just not the 'grab you by the balls, fry your synapses' assault you might have expected from this band this time last year.

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