Tropical Strength is the work of brothers Alastair and Russell Webster, who are also members of Austinmer outfit Shining Bird. What I love about both these bands is the way they manage to convey a sense of Australiana without subscribing to the usual conceits of ‘Australian’ music – i.e. the ‘jangly’ pop put out by the many lost children of the Go Betweens or the style of industrial goth that was born in dingy Melbourne pubs during the 1970s.
Shining Bird’s take on Australian music is closer to that of Men at Work or the Warumpi Band. They pulled it off wonderfully in their last single, ‘Distant Dreaming’ – a subtle, engrossing jam which sounds a bit like David Byrne in a tender moment and revolves around the line ‘I’m caught in a distant dreamtime’. The video clip even features cameos from Uluru, the Opera House and a giant kangaroo.
Tropical Strength are slightly less indebted to the 80s than Shining Bird, but the Aussie references are everywhere here, too. The band’s Soundcloud profile credits the music to a gentleman called Harold Holt living in Seychelles (so that’s where he got to!), and their first single is named after Australian cinema classic Wake in Fright: a nightmare of alcoholism and sodomy in the outback.
‘Wake in Fright’ is broadly divided into two parts. Opening with the sounds of rainfall and bird song (not to mention a lyrical reference to ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’), the first half is a mix of melancholic synth drone and a found-sound evocation of the brothers’ south coast home. The vocal is processed so that when it hits the lower registers it sounds something like the rumble of a didgeridoo. In its second half the song opens out into lush choral harmonies and Beatles-esque piano chords, travelling from the unsettling to the euphoric in about five minutes. ‘Wake in Fright’ is the kind of song I’ve been hoping to hear for a long time: a unique expression of Australian identity that goes beyond games of knifey-spoony and grandma’s hills hoist.
Tropical Strength are putting out an EP later this year on Inertia subsidiary Antelope Recordings. In the meantime, get your ears around a gorgeous Beatles cover the band have put up on Soundcloud as well as this video. And keep your eye out for a new Shining Bird single coming out next week!