Tropic of Coldness is a duo. That's an important thing to note. Specifically, it is the duo of Giovanni from Italy and David from America. But that's not the key. The key is that in terms of the narrative Tropic of Coldness spins out, there are two characters. The first character is the guitar. All the other instruments play the second character – instruments including synths, cellos, etc. And while Tropic of Coldness does indeed make cold music, the story they tell is a vital one with a frail human quality.
As “Unrelated Causalities” opens, it sets up its architectural template: thick, arpeggiated guitars at the forefront hold the pieces together and the eclectic mix of samples and synths in the background fill out the details. The sound of the guitar is reminiscent of the thudding guitar strikes of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Twin Peaks” or some of Tortoise’s work on “Millions Now Living…”: it’s bombastic, thudding and resonant – each note has an emotional weight. More importantly, the guitar plays a key role in these songs by only ever inching them forward, refusing any bold strokes. Specifically, the guitar is the thing that serves to give the songs a repetitive quality. It is a force that never completely allows the songs to move forward, always teasing the idea of motion but only ever delivering minimal progress.
And so, what role do the other instruments play in the larger narrative of the songs? Drone is a music defined by repetition. On a sliding scale of synonyms for repetition, monotony is not far removed. In many ways, that’s what “Unrelated Causalities” is, it’s a monotonous record. The key is that it is a deliberately monotonous record – that’s part of its story. As cold as the music can sometimes feel, there is also something desperately human about it – there is a sense of life edging on defeat in these songs. And again, this is where the dichotomy of guitar vs all other instruments comes into play. In terms of how the songs are mixed, the guitar is often louder and cleaner while all other instruments are in the background. Thus, the part of the songs that gives them their sameness dominates while the engine that tries to create movement is muffled and marginalized to a background role. There is a crushing weight to the repetition of the songs, but a quiet optimism that refuses to be extinguished too – no matter how small it’s voice.
Doing a song-by-song breakdown of an album like this is pointless, “Unrelated Causalities” is meant to be taken as a whole, the lines are meant to blur and create a seamless listening experience. If the music could be said to have a message, it could best be summed up with Song two’s title: “Routine Bites Hard” (a Joy Division reference to boot). It’s a soundtrack of human defeat in some ways, but also an articulation of quiet resistance too. “Unrelated Causalities” is a dark, hypnotic album sure to excite fans of last year’s “Commuting” EP and will likely win over more than a few new fans along the way.