A hugely entertaining dance-rock romp.
Si Hawkins 2011
Masks are definitely the way forward in modern rock and pop. They offer a useful air of mystery (see Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife/Fever Ray), and are also useful for snazzy nightclub cameos in major sci-fi movies – (Daft Punk, in Tron: Legacy). While for younger outfits masks will also cover any unsightly blemishes resulting from your hectic late-night rock‘n’roll lifestyle – shades just don’t go far enough.
Having watched their old tour-mates Klaxons struggle with the pressures of becoming unlikely tabloid fodder, Is Tropical have taken a more reticent route. The London trio’s air of bandit-like mystery helped build a mighty buzz around a couple of artful dancefloor cuts they released at the back end of 2009, and that anonymity would also have proven useful if this long-anticipated album turned out to be a stinker.
Thankfully your gasmasks can remain sheathed as Native To turns out to be a hugely entertaining dance-rock romp: all crazy noises and crisp beats, oddball lyrics and shout-along choruses, with a pleasingly likeable air, which wasn’t always the case with their predecessors. An unwelcoming mock-pomposity lingered around much of the nu-rave scene that Is Tropical caught the tail-end of, and while the band have actively moved on from that sound – those early singles are absent here – they do also give a sizeable nod to a few other mixed-up types who take themselves a tad seriously.
You may recognise the yearning yelp of Foals (on the Cassius-like What???), the shoegaze-y fug of recent tour-buddies The Big Pink (Berlin), while the recent single The Greeks kicks in with a hugely evocative echo of xx-like guitar, before powering off to the dancefloor. They remain just the right side of over-earnestness though, and while the likeability is partly due to some slightly weedy vocals, there are also some genuine, non-ironic pop moments here. Clouds skips along on a Casio-like riff and could easily have come from one of those contemporary-rockers-do-songs-for-kids compilations – "Kids please beware, evil lurks in the air, on darkened corners and friendly faces" – while I’ll Take My Chances is a surprisingly touching, guitar-led love song.
Po-faced beats and trendy pants will get your picture in the papers, for a while, but Is Tropical may just have a little more savvy and substance behind the masks.