2021 truly has seen a theme of pandemic albums. And, let’s face it, the music industry has had it pretty rough. Most of these albums delve into the hardships, the loss and the struggles of the prevalent COVID-19 pandemic. Not Palm Beach based Tomi Gray. You see, Tomi faced significant pandemic loss. Not only because he lost his connection to live music, but also his day job performing on stage at Dracula’s Caberet, which he has been a part of for the last 3 years.
Despite these losses, Tomi took to lockdown with his chin up. Living with a blind bulldog, some pet birds and 3 fun-loving female housemates, Tomi’s isolation wasn’t all that lonely at all. He did, however, face a loss of identity. And how did the multi-instrumentalist deal with that? Putting all the extra time he had to himself to write and produce one of the most sonically experimental EP’s coming out of the Coast this year!
Headphone opens ‘Asthma’ — a chaotic, complex and hard to follow track (in all the best ways). A kick-drum driven, jazzy, industrial beat opens the song over a captivating bass. The song never quite goes where you expect it to, constantly shifting with melodies that don’t fit, or evolving time signatures. Influences from different styles or sounds that wouldn’t traditionally fit creep in and out. “It’s good. Music on bad headphones” he repeats, symbolising how music was an escape from the hustle and bustle of the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tone completely shifts with title-track Asthma — the calm after the storm — with its acoustic/ folk, soft tone. About facing the realities of working towards being a musician, then seeing your opportunities be stripped away out of nowhere, the track holds a hint of hopefulness. “Don’t let the asthma win” he sings, summarising the creativity he gained out of his losses. Shoestring, instrumentally, carries the same tone. His vocals, however, are doused in effects and experimental, sometimes unfitting delivery (again, unfitting in the best way). The track is a journey, never going in any direction you expect it to. From robotic to angry, the track is a masterpiece of unexpected twists and turns. Particularly at the halfway mark.
Dark synths slowly begin to take over, as the track shifts to have a more, for lack of a better description, Western movie inspired sound. Like the part of the movie when the protagonist is going off into battle. It ends on what sounds like a demo recorded onto his phone — his voice is distant and it sounds as though he is still developing his ideas. The sound of a car driving past interrupts the recording, before a crash is heard and a crowd is laughing. This production move perfectly captures the core production theme — constantly moving between the real and the surreal.
And surrealism is exactly what you get with following track Frisbee. The production is like reggae meets with traditional folk with a few references to 90s hip hop/ pop. The mood of the song is often hard to follow; from hopeful to uneasy; from relaxed to uncomfortable. It’s fitting for the main lyric of the song “I’m coming unstuck”. Lying has a similar, somewhat dark sound. “Sissy’s in the kitchen, rattling those pots and pans. A women on a mission, pumping up all the jams.” he sings, describing what he sees in his lockdown. “Sometimes, you have to fall awake to get to sleep” he sings, furthering the disoriented messaging, At the end the song goes to another voice memo style recording; a song with his roommates about sandwiches.
Heavily overdriven guitar opens Songs, a nostalgic, campfire style track. Quickly, as to be expected from this project, the sounds become more experimental, as he puts more effects on his voice. “Everything gets faster, everybody changes. When I die, leave a pile of songs beside my name”. The song summaries the project’s themes, unexpected, slightly uneasy production with a tinge of hope always present. About making the most of what you have and normalising hardships, the song is a reminder that everything will turn out okay, even when things are hard. Ones ends the record. About someone he was invested in who was exhibiting self-destructive behaviours, he sings “who wouldn’t love you when you’re crying?”. Exploring more emotional themes, the album covers his relationship with a seemingly self-destructive woman.
“I knew you weren’t the one ‘cos you can’t handle your drugs. An excuse inside a cage I could dance with you. She’s a movie in reverse we’ve already seen won’t work. Lay a kiss on my disdain, give me cause to try again”
The song fades out with an everchanging instrumental section, ending the project showcasing the diverse skills of the Gold Coast multi-instrumentalist, before fading into white noise and bird sounds.
Overall, Gray’s album is one of the most interesting pandemic projects that I’ve come across. With its unrestrained production, complex lyricism and relatable themes, I would recommend this project, and all of Tomi’s work, to anyone. Using his own words, ‘Asthma’ is “delightfully bizarre” in all the best ways.
‘Asthma’ is available now on all platforms.
You can listen HERE.