Album Review: Lost Animal – Ex Tropical

Lost_Animal-Ex_TropicalLost Animal is the work of Jarrod Qarrell, an audacious creator of genre blending music whose debut Ex Tropical might be described as synth-punk centered folk-rap. Most of the songs’ rhythmic lyrics are delivered with a brash, lip-curl sort of affectation over thumping bass and pulsing synths. That “rap” descriptor might be a stretch, but with titles like “(Intro) Beat Goes On,” which contains lyrics like “Take your hip/ and let it slip,” I think the case is there to be made. Only a moderate amount of digging online yields the fact that a majority of the album’s lyrics were improvised directly onto tape—another hallmark of hip-hop. What’s for sure is that Ex Tropical emerges as a mysteriously intriguing collection of expertly crafted songs.

Swirling atmospherics back an odd, circus-like organ on the album’s first single, “Say No to Thugs,” which also features beautiful piano and a profoundly eerie bass line. Like most of the songs that follow, it turns from merely interesting to deeply provocative with each repeated listen, slowly revealing itself to the listener. The album’s tropical influences are felt on “Buai Raskol” with its steel drum and brassy elements. “Buai” refers to a popular nut in Papau New Guinea that makes the mouth extremely red, while Raskol gangs are bands of criminals in that same country.

After the down-tempo and smooth “Don’t Litter” ambles through lines that recall the absurdity of Bob Dylan songs like “Ballad of a Thin Man,” the bass-heavy thumps of “Cold Cut Nature” revitalize the album’s hip-hop elements. The title track proves to be one of the least arresting, though the brief trip through the synthetic world of mysteriously foggy synths makes for a pleasant interlude.

“Lose the Baby,” the album’s second single, is easily it’s most accessible and straightforward song. In this way, it may not be as oddly provocative, but it is definitely a pop gem. Pretty piano chords and steady snares back Quarrell as he sings, “Listen boy you better run, run…run.” That slight hesitation before the delivery of the line’s final word functions excellently, and he executes this technique repeatedly throughout the song. I get the feeling that this lean pop tune isn’t Quarrell’s favorite track on the record, but it is undeniably the one to which listeners will gravitate.

Quarrell follows this up with two more of the album’s most traditionally arranged songs, “Greylands” and “Old Lovers.” The former sounds something like 80s David Bowie and the latter is a drifting synth pop track with escalating harmonies and pretty xylophone. Both tracks make me realize that almost all of the songs, these included, have a Leonard Cohen/Nick Cave feel.

Although Ex Tropical’s sounds are generated primarily from keyboards, it’s a deep record, rich in texture. I completely underestimated the album on a first listen and found myself repeatedly astounded as I peeled away the complex layers of this album. Hardly Art Records has carved out a place for themselves as purveyors of off-kilter but impeccable pop in recent years, releasing the quirky pop debut from Deep Time last year. Ex Tropical is an album that fits into that same category. While much of the independent music community seems content to keep chewing on bland leaves of the same variety, Hardly Art serves up luscious feasts of delicacies for those willing to expand their aural palate.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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