Tomato Flower - No LP (tri-color vinyl)

Tomato Flower - No LP (tri-color vinyl)

Tomato Flower - No LP (Ramp Local/USA)

They Say

Something happened on No. The early EPs from Baltimore’s Tomato Flower were a pretty, dreamy psychedelia. Warm to the touch, like looking up at the trees on a cloudless day. On No, the four-piece's (Mike Alfieri, Ruby Mars, Jamison Murphy, Austyn Wohlers) debut album, those trees, that cloudless sky, have become haunted, thorny, stormy. It takes Tomato Flower from buttoned-up, almost technically formalist psych pop to something more urgent, raw, emotionally immediate. No is messier, more expansive, and through all of its chaos, the band’s most rigorous artistic statement to date.

No is the band’s first effort made entirely in person, the first thing tracked in a studio instead of in a bedroom. It is a highly collaborative record written and recorded by everyone, partially made live. It is very much the byproduct of a band that has done some serious touring, following a coast-to-coast tour with Animal Collective in the summer of 2022. On No, the drums are aggressive, the bass is fuller and more direct. The guitars are distorted and disorientingly complex. Wohlers’ and Murphy’s vocals are meaty, fully loaded, in your face.

Lead single “Destroyer,” has co-lead vocalist Jamison Murphy practically screaming over angular guitars, oscillating in a sonic space somewhere between the prettiness of Broadcast and the sludge of Jesus Lizard. The song feels like kicking a soccer ball through wet cement, impossible, sisyphean, but also weirdly beautiful. It also presents an early entry point to one of No’s major conceptual underpinnings: that of the breakup between Wohlers and Murphy, which occurred during the composition of the album.

It wouldn’t be fair to just call No a break up album. It’s far more complicated with that. No is a record about negation: I will not do this, you cannot tell me what to do, we are not living in a utopia, don’t be delusional. No embraces a kind of brutal realism, a confrontation of life that only happens when you wizen up a little bit. “Saint,” explores the aphasia and resentment that follows a tumultuous love affair, intense feelings on every end of every spectrum. The baseline stumbles and falls into the earth, almost unable to pick itself back up again. Wohlers’ voice sounds like it is being caught in her throat. “In time/I found that you/started it,” she sings.

No has its foot not just in realism and lucid emotional resonance, but, like in Tomato’s Flower’s past work, the fantastical, too. “Sally & Me,” reappropriates Gerard de Nerval images, with its stonelight and metal, its angel wings and its softness. “Harlequin,” treats a bumbling friend like a pierrot, a titular harlequin where their fuck ups get weirder and weirder in each passing second. All of it is a brutal delight, a departure from the past, a nod to a startling present. Tomato Flower is no longer a pop band. Long live Tomato Flower.