Is Tropical - Black Anything

by Jeff Penczak Rating:6 Release Date:2016-03-12

Is Tropical is in danger of being recognized more for their marketing gambits than their music. While ‘Dancing Anymore’ was admittedly one of the best dance tracks of the past few years, the tune gained more notoriety as the soundtrack to a XXX-rated porno cartoon/video that even the gutter-dwellers at YouTube refused to air.

Now they return with their third album, and it’s a compilation of their recent five singles, all recorded on a different continent, and released on clear 10in vinyl such that placing the whole set on top of each other creates an outline of the Earth. As gimmicks go, this one’s a doozy, but the music is what matters and the London quartet mostly succeed in creating a divergent set of tracks that are thinly tied together by an electronic backbeat that should keep you on your (dancing) toes for most of the release.

First off, though, I have to warn that the album is horribly sequenced, tossing tracks willy-nilly with no attention paid to the detail and thematic continuity of the original releases. So we get one of the African tracks, the Siouxsie & the Banshees/Creatures-inspired ‘Lights On’, all full of tribal beats and percussive fanny-wagging followed by North America’s funky, bomb-the-bass wall-rattler, ‘Crawl’. Supposedly, the songs were recorded on the continent that inspired their creation, but throwing that thematic continuity to the wind defeats the whole purpose, rendering any cohesion mute.

Kirstie Fleck is still the best thing that ever happened to them, and her sexy, forceful vocals run the gamut of emotions, with the band’s bubbling electronics circling around like vultures chasing rabbits around the field. ‘Fall’ is another dancefloor-heaver, with an arm-waving chorus that’s probably even more of a blast with a few belts in you at 2am, but things get a little stale about halfway through, where all the beats take on a similar vibe and it becomes nearly impossible to differentiate one track from another.

Also, the concept of basing the track on the continent it was recorded on loses water quickly, not just because they’re strewn all over the place, but because they don’t really seem to imbibe any of the continental flavour they allegedly absorbed. There isn’t anything distinctly 'Asian' about the arrangements or melodies of the Asian tracks, ‘Follow the Sun’ and the meandering ‘Now Stop’, and I didn’t get any European vibes from ‘Say’, although Fleck’s cutesy, little girl vocals do drag the listener in to her mischievous, musical spider-web.

The album ends with the two South American tracks, ‘Believe’, which does have an air of Brazilian cha-cha swagger to recommend (although where the metallic crunch came from is anyone’s guess). Unfortunately, closer ‘What You Want’ is rather somnambulant, playing again to Fleck’s sultry Siouxsie-like delivery, but not giving her a tune to work with. Perhaps they should have spent a little more time on the tunes and less trying to come up with their ad campaign, although for the most part I did find myself putting a little wiggle in my walk and a stagger in my step, and that’s what great dance music is supposed to do.

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