It’s probably best to lay my cards out early: I think Tacocat are the best band in the United States and they’ve rarely been off my headphones since their 2016 album Lost Time. But, whereas Lost Time and 2014’s NVM dealt with the minutiae of life, celebrating cult figures and taking off-kilter looks at some of life’s difficulties, recent events have forced the band to take a wider view. This Mess is a Place is Tacocat’s response to darker times, and its tunes come plastered with rainbow-coloured glitter.
Opener ‘Hologram’ is an ideal case-in-point. How else to respond to the current US President than by remembering “Power is a hologram” and leaning back to think of the Milky Way? It’s a spaced-out political statement that doesn’t name names, with a chorus that you can’t forget and an ending that’s hopeful if uncertain. ‘New World’ is a Bangles style garage-lite exploration of wanting to escape from the day-to-day, not dissimilar to ‘I Hate The Weekend’ from Lost Time.
Lead single ‘Grains of Salt’ takes Tacocat in a synth-led, pop-rock direction with lyrics that move from the imageist – “Feeling so other / Like too many sunsets” – to the pinpoint – “Dont forget to remember who the fuck you are!”. It’s a curiously introspective track, particularly for a Tacocat single, with a chorus whose “tears in the oven” line appears to be an Adventure Time! reference, and whose lyrics in general show a bruised self-consciousness.
‘Grains Of Salt’ appears to set up a central plank of the album; ‘The Joke of Life’ with its surf-style and prominent vocal harmonies at odds with its lyrical negativity; ‘Little Friend’ a blast of pop-punk, forming an ode to (what else?) pets. Naturally, for a song about small animals, this track is the heaviest on This Mess is a Place.
‘Rose Colored Sky’, meanwhile, is a rumination of those born into success and their distance from the rest of society – “I wonder what it feels like not to even have to try” sings Emily Nokes, in a voice that’s unusually frank and direct, whilst recognising “If I wasn’t on the battleground/ I bet I could’ve gone to space by now”. Even for a band with a tendency to punch up, this is a pretty straightforward piece of criticism – a comment on the inadequacies of silver-spoon-in-mouth types.’The Problem’ takes a similar tack to Lost Time‘s ‘You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit’, albeit in a simpler form and with spikier guitars.
The album’s closing tracks are near-ballads: “What a time to be barely alive” laments ‘Crystal Ball’ – a reflection on the news cycle and our constant state of semi-engagement. ‘Meet Me At La Palma’ verges on AOR with some tropic-cool guitar licks courtesy of Eric Randall. Its lyrics detail drinking and dancing in inappropriately themed bars festooned with “pictures of palm trees where no palm trees ever grew”, all for the excuse of re-uniting with an old flame. If that’s an unusually romantic side to the group, then ‘Miles and Miles’ is like a shonky take on country (at least initially) before it settles into the more familiar Tacocat trademark pop-punk anthem chorus.
Not as easily approachable as NVM or Lost Time, This Mess is a Place is a bold direction for Tacocat’s first album on Sub Pop, having previously been on the label’s Hardly Art subsidiary. But it’s also a grower, and one that should solidly cement the band’s place as outsiders with a knack for crafting hooky choruses. Particularly impressive are Emily Nokes’ vocals, with producer Erik Blood always knowing when to double, to echo or to let them ring more naturally.
Of the album, Nokes has commented: “We can examine some hard stuff, feel some rage feelings, sift through memories, feel wavy-existential, and still go get a banana daiquiri at the end”. In other words: no matter how hard times are, Tacocat always appeal.
This Mess Is A Place is out 3rd May via Sub Pop.