- Ruta Smith
The enigmatic sage Darius Epps once said, "Watch out for Florida Man." And, while Atlanta's loveable stoner prophet was referring to a mythical flamingo beating, cannibalistic, "alt-right Johnny Appleseed," the sentiment stands firm for Charleston punk outfit Florida Man. These guys are something to watch out for, offering a sound that intersects with wild feedback, skilled craftsmanship, and a heavy interpretation of rhythm playing.
Their latest LP Tropical Depression lives and sleeps at this crossroads for the duration of its seven songs, creating a sound that vocalist Jim O'Connor only describes as "fun."
"I wouldn't say anything specific because we can go from a really poppy-sounding song to something really fast and heavy," he explains. "It's just whatever we feel like at the time. It's definitely an emotional ride."
After distilling the controlled discord of 2017's self-titled debut and amplifying the aggression in every direction but down, Florida Man created an unrestrained sophomore effort that's sure to catch some recognition among genre enthusiasts.
"These songs just feel like a super organic evolution of the sound," says guitarist Andrew Barnes. "We didn't abandon the blueprint and the sound we naturally stumbled upon for the first album, but we just kind of enhanced it by sprinkling in a little more stylistic variety."
"It sounds like punk spy movie music to me, half the time. Spy Kids 3, rated R for sure," he says.
Tropical Depression doesn't waste a fraction of time in its audio attack plan. It hits hard, it hits fast, and it hits home in its opening track "Brain Cell." Barnes' melodic dissonance clashes with O'Connor's guttural yelp for an addictive toxicity. The simple and urgent lyrics leave a feeling of desperation that can only be found in bare anger.
"The voices in my head won't leave me alone," he growls at the top of the tune. Things just go downhill for the narrator from there.
Taking the first song's lead, "Dirt" delivers the backhand in Tropical Depression's one-two punch of an opening. Leaving no room to decompress, the second track leaps into a noise-punk-metal thrasher, where all hands are on deck and the ship is going off of a cliff.
"It's high energy, fast, and to the point; it appeals to my sensibilities," says bassist C.J. DeLuca.
"It's raunchy, dude," drummer Brandon Johnson adds.
"Holy Roller" provides a picture of a band experimenting with groove, and shows Florida Man's mastery of it, as well. The drums, performed by Jonathan Peace on the record, are the song's heart after cardio — the beat pounds out of the chest, but it never breaks tempo.
In an album boiling over with speed and headbangers, "Holy Roller" is almost (almost) shelter from the storm.
"You can't not bob your head to it — it's impossible," says Johnson, who recently joined the band full-time. "If you can't bob your head to that song, you're not a human being and you should move away."
"Rat on the Loose" has Florida Man get in touch with old-school post-hardcore groups, like Fugazi or Big Black.
"The stuff that I'm writing on guitar isn't necessarily rooted in hardcore or whatever," Barnes clarifies about Florida Man's sound. "There's a lot of different influences going on, like indie rock music, things that aren't necessarily aggressive music."
The group explores that on album cap "Life Insurance." Getting back to the groove found on "Holy Roller," Florida Man utilizes a repetitive chord progression in the verse to make the listener feel trapped before relieving the tension in the slow chorus. According to the guitarist, the song was based around his interest in Afro-beat music, a break from genre norms. The world music influence is hidden deeply behind the doomful riff and gloomy words.
"There is no escape," screams O'Connor on the climactic lyric.
By the time the last track wraps up, Tropical Depression sits as a serious contender for Lowcountry punk album of the year. The potential was there, hidden behind a name that was "straight up based on a meme," according to Barnes.
But, just as expected, they take the weakened Google searches with a sense of humor. "Our SEO is trash right now," Barnes laughs.
"Now we are the meme," Johnson jokes. "I only carry alligators as currency."