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Tomorrows Tulips was born from the ashes of front man/pro-surfer Alex Knost’s previous venture, Japanese Motors, and a fortuitous experiment with his girlfriend at the time, Christina Kee. The twosome embarked on a musical union inspired by Kee’s fledgling foray into drumming, and by the next day, the group had the seeds of several songs. Following the pair’s only release, Knost was joined by Ford Archbold (bass, vocals) and Jamie Dutcher (drums) to create 2013’s Experimental Jelly and now, When – both on Burger Records.
Much exploratory elbow grease has gone into crafting the sound of this curious collaboration that prides itself on a “shambolic” approach. With every rendering, the group has fallen more fully into a chaotic, DIY sound that is completely their own. Originally motivated by 1960s rock & roll, Knost took refuge in the genre’s penchant for guts and creativity over technical ability. With When, their wave-riding nature has paid off, and a commitment to process has fed their efforts in creating a sound which embraces emotional transparency.
An acoustic, lo-fi wash and ear-catching chord progression serve as the canvass for “Surplus Store.” The track paints its subject vividly: “He pulls his tricks out of three-quarter sleeves / And combs his hair like the 90s / Hides a shoebox full of his broken dreams / A dirtbag revolution airing out in the seams.” On the bridge, Knost demonstrates his guitar chops, jamming on a solo that peals with rich, elastic groove.
Resounding with achy rumbles and feedback on the edge, When‘s title track stops and starts in husky contemplation. Haunting and dreamy, “When” captures what Tomorrows Tulips does best. The grainy, amped guitar line runs alongside the heavy echo of Archbold’s bass, eventually fading out and giving way to “Favorite Episode,” a mostly instrumental, experiential journey that rises and falls with reincarnations of a single, entrancing theme. Grunge-rattled growler “Glued to You” picks things back up, marked by breathy vocals and the perpetual pulse of the bass. The deep, uneasy grind of the guitar burrows into the darkly melodic refrain that chants, “Stay glued to you,” tapering off into ethereal, reverb-soaked oohs.
The appropriately-named conclusion of the record, “Clear,” closes the album with melodic reflection. Meditative and uplifting, it flows forth gently with tumbling riffs, steady strumming, and whimsical flits of flute, triangle, and strings. Both the vocals and lead guitar carry the melody line through, lulling the listener with the simplicity of a doubly-delivered refrain.
Mellow, lo-fi, and California-infused, it’s no wonder Tomorrows Tulips has culled such descriptions as “loser rock” and “bummer pop,” yet the band’s heart is anything but lackadaisical. Knost has been quoted saying that his ultimate muse is isolation in a world “masked by media, fashions, trends, and technology.” With When, Tomorrows Tulips has ventured their farthest yet, daring to put expression first on a mission to transcend vapid means of existence and reveal an inner life marked by authenticity.