Tough Troubles - Illnesses

Owain Paciuszko 08/10/2010

Rating: 4/5

Opening with the spoken word track Cancer Survivor the tone is set for this record, its as unnerving as the backwards scenes from David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me with its disjoined, computerised vocals describing a young man's battle with the titular disease. It's an unwelcoming introduction to this record which, as the name suggests, is all about diseases.

First track 'proper' Paraplegic starts with a racing electronic drum beat and half-spoken vocals, which bizarrely makes it sound like a missing track from Gruff Rhys's recent Terror of Cosmic Loneliness album. It charges forward with guitars forming a fuzzy wall of sound, synths in the distance sounding like frustrated bagpipes and the percussion lively and exciting. Then it's back to the bizarre with the ominous synth and depressing list of Herpes Discussion, before turning into a muzak beat accompanied by a The Cure-like guitar line that is Radiation Sickness.

This London three piece are consistently interesting, their music is steeped heavily in eighties alternative influences and experimentation. Here they have crafted an album that is unsettling in so much as it is approaching the weaknesses, the nightmares of the human organism with music and tracks that are dark and encompassing, and then avant garde and confrontational; creepy monologues that disturb all the more sandwiched between their drone-rock filling.

Radiation Sickness continues to billow into a storm cloud of noise, the electronic drums twitching awkwardly, staggering like a survivor through the nuclear winter of guitar noise; it might sound glum and depressing but its surprisingly invigorating, filled with energy and atmosphere. Speaking of storm clouds, Onset of Schizophrenia opens with just that before shifting into a solemn guitar line that is accompanied by a contrasting Casio beat and keys set to vibes, playing a tentative and nervous melody over and over. The vocals are sung with a dull, nasal delivery, pushed up against the cautious instrumentation awkwardly pondering about a man who thought he could change the weather by changing his clothes.

If it's not too weird to imagine Onset of A.D.D. I bares a peculiar similarity to Prince's Purple Rain in part, especially vocally, with guitars wandering slinkily in the background whilst synthlines grind like industrial machinery over a straight-forward, 80's discotheque beat. That it ends with 'A.D.D.' hollered as if its the chorus of a Bloc Party anthem seems to be a perfectly tongue-in-cheek finale to another enjoyably different track.

Side one of the cassette winds down with the ten minute Onset of Depression, quietly cooed vocals and plinks and plonks of various instruments setting the scene all too well, and probably rendering the listening instructions ('ideally alone and in a darkened space') both perfect conditions and highly dangerous. This is a sinister and lonely collage of despair, peppered with sounds and pitying - if archly humourous - phrases; 'I've come to collect my artwork, Don said it didn't sell.' It develops further and further into a wry poem on the frustrations on being an artist, soundtracked by various drones and sci-fi twinkles it pushes down a rabbit hole into a self-deprecating mind having a bit of a breakdown and as the singer's voice loses its peculiar accent and becomes more natural little glimmers of fractured honesty break through and it's a strangely bittersweet and affecting close to the first part of this record.

Side two begins with the familiar yelps of 'A.D.D' as Onset of A.D.D. II kicks in, picking up where its sister track finished. It repeats and repeats its alt-pop beats up until the point where you just start to think; 'How much more is there?' At that exact moment is shifts harshly into Napoleon Complex (DIY Context) with a pounding bass drum and a squall of guitar, shifting the record's tempo neatly into shouty-punk with snatches of dialogue popping out of different speakers to initially disorientating effect (I thought it was my neighbours trying to get my attention through the window!).

Foreign Accent Syndrome begins with an explanatory sample, looping the phrase 'What people told me sounded like an Italian' over whistling synths, accompanied by Casio beats and the ironic cry of 'Watsamattayou.' It sounds like Joy Division doing a minimalist cover of a Flight of the Conchords track. Meanwhile Weed Psychosis balances its retro-keyboard drum machine against BRMC-style guitars and barked vocals, sounding aptly like a twitchy Ian Dury staggering home squawking frantically.

Speaking of frantic Whip Worm begins with a relentlessly chirpy, high-tempo beat and bass line before turning into the sound of dental surgery, all cranial drills with a looped bass-synth line for good measure. I'm sure it's an accurate audio expression of an illness I definitely don't want. Nat and Dan (Ana's Song) is the record's weakest moment, a short narrative told sparsely over a musical background that sounds like electro-enhanced digeridoo over the score to John Carpenter's The Thing, but not as good as that might sound in your head. Progeria is a short song beginning aptly with the lyric; 'Life is precious and it's short.' Final track Wellness brings this concept record to a close with almost optimistic synths ascending and descending and vocals reverberating blurrily.

Tough Troubles make wonderfully different and peculiar music that is equal parts noisy mess and experimentally entertaining, it's impossible to listen to without taking notice even if that is to puzzle over what they're doing of why. The band throw many things at the wall and it can occasionally be disorientating or might be what some would consider 'unlistenable', but I can only imagine they might be the first to acknowledge that sometimes what they do is create a godawful sound to stir the feeling and provoke the reaction they want in a listener. Across this concept album they consistently impress - bar one soggy track - and I can't wait to hear what bizarre and intriguing sound journey they embark upon next.