Just when I was absolutely convinced I was too far out of reach for chill-wave to have any more effect on me - that monster devouring every living (and sounding) creature that gets near its lonely bedroom studio on the intersection of pop and electronica; just as many of us had managed to dodge the final whip of hypnagogic pop (or glo-fi); just when we could finally take some time to listen to other kinds of music without submitting ourselves to the iron fist of the aforementioned, the sound of first-year university students with laptops; we have to defend - not without some stubbornness - this new material from Briton Chris Ward, self-released through Bandcamp. Although it has to be said that Tropics' new stuff eludes the clichés mentioned above, it has little to do with chill-wave, or rather, it moves away from it and even transcends it.
Before getting into “Nautical Clamor”, we should reflect on his debut album “Parodia Flare” - released last year on Planet Mu - alongside his two previous EPs. It was quite a surprise to many fans in certain sectors of the electronic music scene when he got signed by Mike Paradinas' label, almost always radically electronic, experimental and only occasionally open to pop formats. However, it’s clear to any Planet Mu fan that the label has been broadening its horizons for some time now. Its been exploring a sound beyond IDM, hyper complex rhythms and crushing dubstep - and it's been doing so without losing one bit of its integrity and identity (moving ever closer to Warp, another great champion of electronic music always on the lookout for new styles and movements). In fact, this Tropics album wouldn't be out of place in its catalogue: it has many elements of the Warp DNA - all intertwined – post-rock, hip-hop, melodic, ambient, Balearic and even some house.
But “Nautical Clamor” isn't in either catalogue. Chris Ward put it out himself, uploaded it to the web and let it find its own way in cyber space. It consists of ten previously unreleased tracks, old and new material, alternate takes and a new remix of “Mouves”. The first song, “Black Hole Surf”, sounds like Toro Y Moi (an example that comes in handy to illustrate the fact that Tropics can't be easily classified, just like Chaz Bundick). The vocal ways of Toro Y Moi, especially in the background vocals, can also be found on “Going Sideways”, “Sleepless”, “Small Charm” and “It Goes On With You” - but that's where the similarities end, because the structures and arrangements are entirely different. The latter, particularly, are more in the vein of the jazzy pop of The Sea And Cake. In fact, the whole record follows that line in a way, closer to post-rock and shoegaze than to the usual arsenal of eighties references that is so common in chill-wave. Furthermore, when he wanders through the effervescent fields of instrumental and vaguely epic melodic pop, the boundaries fade: it's not clear which sound belongs to the past and which to the present - which makes us wonder about his next step. Should Tropics decide to go the way of “Patricia Glow”, a deep-house track on level with Nicolas Jaar and Soul Clap, I'm in.