Tommorows Tulips// When
Recommended Track: Confetti and Glue
Oh, the break-up record: that sacred piece of personal torment put to tape in the hopes that a lone individual can turn their private pain into something universal and true through the power of music, thereby providing a balm for their own agony-ridden soul as well as for other wretches mired in the emotional muck. Alas for them, personal pain is rarely as interesting to the listener as it is to the sufferer—think about the last time you had to listen to your recently dumped friend moan on about their ex—which makes the break-up record a tricky beast indeed. While it does happen that an artist successfully translates their trauma into something that resonates beyond basic solipsism, the truth is that it takes little talent to whine and that’s pretty much all that’s happening on When, the third record from Tomorrows Tulips.
But let’s start with the good. Tomorrows Tulips were never the most complicated of bands—you might even call them purposely lackadaisical, so laid back as to not believe in more than two chords—however they’ve left behind the plinky-plonky Vaselines-style garage pop found on feather-light debut album Eternally Teenage, for a heavier, more driving sound that’s all about the interplay between Ford Archbold’s rich bass lines and Alex Knost’s simple guitar progressions. It’s cleaner and more professional sounding, less a bedroom project than an actual band. They’re incorporating new sounds to varying effect. Sometimes they work, as with the nice strings on “Laying in the Sun”, and sometimes they don’t, as on the overly-psychedelic flutes on closing track. The record shows growth, vision and a sense of professionalism the band has lacked in the past. These are all very good things.
And yet, When is SUCH an aggressive bummer that it overshadows anything else. When revels in its sorrow and, in true depressive fashion, wants the listener to empathize but also to be left alone. From opening track “Baby”, wherein frontman Alex Knost wonders/grovels “Am I just your baby?” to the plaintive wonderings of “Confetti and Glue,” (“When can I be happy again/Check the expiration on our suffering.”) the record is a parade of pity-party lyrics set to melodies that seem as tired and defeated as their writer. There are a few sparks of light in the dark–see the post-punkish “Papers By The TV” and the sprightly “Surplus Store”–but they’re anomalies, and strange ones at that, seemingly tacked on to break up the proclamations of despair and sadness. No one is fooled.
Thankfully, Knost seems to know that he’s made a record that’s essentially a one man sob fest, even titling one particularly pathetic number “Down-Tuned Self-Pity.” I feel for him, I really do, but all the self-awareness in world can’t save his record from mimicking that wall of white noise feeling you get from hearing someone so bummed out all the time, especially when the music itself is so lackluster. That said, when Knost hits the right note between lyrical despair and almost alarmingly pretty indie pop (“Confetti and Glue” and “I Lay in My Bed” being the highlights, as well as being essentially the same song), the results are top rate–there’s just something magical about happy melodies with sad lyrics. But these moments are too few and far between on this unfocused and ultimately unmemorable LP.