Tropic of Cancer: Restless Idylls (Blackest Ever Black)
Camella Lobo’s latest solo release as Tropic of Cancer continues her melancholy trajectory of post-everything gloom. It’s a much more cohesive album than her previous mini-album, 2012’s The End of All Things, which still had some holdovers of her time recording as a duo with Juan Mendez (a.k.a Silent Servant). I find ToC to be far more focused and enjoyable as a solo act, though, and Restless Idylls is further evidence to support that opinion. Consisting of 8 tracks over 40+ minutes of playback, it’s the longest collection of music I’ve heard yet from the project, but it floats by like a dream. “Plant Lilies at My Head” is a beatless, moaning opener that sets the tone appropriately before “Court of Devotion” hits more of a proper stride. The arrangement of plodding, simple drums, bass guitar, and persistent synth pads immediately reminds me of The Cure’s 1981 album Faith. It’s an old favorite of mine, so it’s not a bad thing, although the likeness would be startling if not for Lobo’s airier, softer, and more diffuse vocals.
The other logical touchpoint to me is vintage Factory Records, including the most sedate and stripped down Joy Division or early New Order tracks (the tiny drum machine loops that ground “Hardest Day” or the more reverberated toms of “Wake the Night,” especially). I suppose one minor complaint could be that Lobo’s sound is so uniform as to be a bit monochromatic (in this case, the color is a dismal grey, despite the vibrant palette of the cover art), but somehow that reinforces the entire Tropic of Cancer aesthetic. I like that it never dives into the more sinister JAMC flavor of an older track like “Be Brave” but instead resides in this serene pool of sadness consistently. One of the real highlights for me is the ever so slightly darker edge of “The Seasons Won’t Change (And Neither Will You),” with its harrowing bassline and ghostly vocals. Much like Liz Harris’s vocals for Grouper, I rarely can even make out Lobo’s lyrics at all, but I also question whether that even matters; Restless Idylls is more of a mood or a state of mind than a set of songs to me, one in which it’s well worth immersing yourself.