Tropics Parodia Flare
Reviewed by Joshua Love Source: (Pitchfork)
Tropics mastermind Chris Ward is a voracious and accomplished student of sound. Parodia Flare is the British twentysomething's full-length debut as Tropics, and it's made of compellingly lush and languid bits of sonic material culled from a vast array of sources, including touchstones as disparate as synth-pop, Balearic, Britpop, dubstep, African guitar-pop, and goth. Ward demonstrates an impressive sensitivity in picking out elements of these genres and styles that can be pieced together in ways that are texturally satisfying and often beautiful.
But, ultimately, what is he building? That's the question that gets Ward stuck at times throughout the album. For the most part Ward wants to make pop music here, albeit a pop that's refracted through layers of wistful haze and humidity. Ward sings on most of these tracks, yet while his voice does have a pleasantly boyish, Damon Albarn-esque quality at times, little-to-zero effort is invested in making the vocals anything more than another quietly pretty element floating through the mix. So it's up to Ward's soundscapes to communicate any sort of urgency or momentum or drive. When they do, the results are both intoxicating and memorably tuneful. Parodia Flare's first proper song, "Mouves", features a pretty affectless vocal turn, but fortunately gets carried by thrumming bass and steady drums to a neat little hook of pulsing tones. In this context, the track's decorative elements, all its chimes and soupy synths, don't have to worry about carrying the song and can serve their ideal function as colorful embellishment.
Ward's real saving grace on Parodia Flare is the guitar, which he utilizes in unexpectedly welcome ways to propel his compositions, keeping them from dissolving into murky keyboard washes. In particular, the title track, "Playgrounds", and "After Visiting" draw delicate, glinting melodies from the instrument. You spend those songs listening to the guitars then waiting for them to come back-- they lends the tracks a logic and tension that don't exist in some of Ward's other efforts, where less-distinctive sonic elements wander in then bleed away without conveying the sense that they're intrinsic to some greater whole. Ward has already proven he knows how to paint really lovely scenes through sound. Now he just needs to figure out how to best set those scenes in motion.
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