- When Tropics first debuted on Planet Mu with the Soft Vision EP, the project seemed like an agreeable if unremarkable take on '80s baiting chillwave. Maybe not the most distinctive music ever, but it worked well with the label's recent summery narrative strand. Fast forward to Parodia Flare, Chris Ward's debut album, and he's turned from bedroom synth enthusiast to one-man-band. For better or for worse, Parodia Flare sounds like the work of a real human and Ward's own androgynous but soothing (and heavily effects-laced) vocals are all over the record instead of the mangled murmurs that coated the previous EP.
Normally—at least for me—this kind of move into indie rock territory by otherwise "electronic" artists is troublesome if not just for the coat of vanilla it tends to introduce. But for all that, Parodia Flare still feels swampy and—of course—electronic enough to be on Mu. After all, it's still hard to sound like a proper band when every instrument leaves behind cloudy vapour trails in the thick humidity. Like its colourful blur of a cover might suggest, Parodia Flare is visual music to the utmost, relying on pseudo-synaesthetic triggers and reactions to give its traditional songcraft an arty weight and its formless experiments some spontaneity and nuance.
Ward doesn't just rely on elephantine swathes of sound. (There might be shoegaze touches but it never smears too much.) The difference from previous material is most pronounced in the rhythms, often driven by choppy drum kits that wade through heat-induced smog. Though he accents the rhythms with occasional drum fills, the rudimentary rigour lends it a motorik feel that brings it sometimes uncomfortably close to Deerhunter. In fact, everything right down to Ward's apathetic vocal cadence is a dead-ringer for the Atlanta psych rock band, an apparent influence that he can't always shake off on Flare.
Get over that comparison (most prevalent in the vocal-heavy tracks like "Going Back") and the nagging feeling that, like Soft Vision before it, Parodia Flare isn't doing too much of anything different, and you've got an album full of pleasantly wistful daydreaming. While the songs might be grounded by their determined drums-bass-guitar setup, the enormous amount of reverb creates hallucinogenic folds and pockets for Ward's array of synth sounds to lazily drift out of; so when the incisive guitar chords on "Parodia Flare" aren't grabbing your fancy, the trickling trail of chimes and flutters probably will.
In fact, that's one of the best things about Parodia: whether you've got it on background listening or full-on dissection, it's fully reversible and has something for every situation you can throw at it. While it might not be as fiercely individualistic or visionary as a Room(s) or a You Stand Uncertain, Tropics' debut album stands its ground as a promising start for an artist still figuring out exactly what he wants to say.
03. Parodia Flare
04. Going Back
05. Wear Out
10. After Visiting
12. On the Move