by Mykhailo Vil’yamson
Although it’s not entirely clear whether the band’s name can be traced back to the early-to-mid 90s Australian Pre-School show Mulligrubs (with its Cheshire-Cat-like disembodied face) or the classical use of the term as meaning despondent or sullen, what is bait is that their latest sophomore album Tragical has documented a metamorphosis. Much has transpired since their single “Zero Sprite Slushie” first appeared on that suicide prevention benefit compilation “To Show That You’re Still Here” (February 2015), their opening for Propaghandi at The Garrick (February 2016), their dozens of cross-border East and West Coast shows (2016-2018), and The Plague (2020-?). What has emerged in the wake of it all is something new, which doesn’t seem quite as calamitous as the name implies. After all, wasn’t it AJ McLean who once sang, “Sadness is beautiful?” Accordingly, this next stage of Mulligrub’s evolution remains bittersweet but sounds a little more sweet than bitter this time around (on the surface, at least).
If one is familiar with Mulligrub’s debut Soft Grudge (April 2016), Tragical leans hard into the feel of songs like “Mountains & Houses” and “Homo Milk” (with their multi-voice, bright tone, minimalist guitar-bass-drum configuration). The vocal stylings of drummer J Riley Hill are heard quite a bit more than sometimes on this album, with Kelly Campbell only having two songs as the sole vocalist (namely, “Octokite” and “Spiff”). Ex-bassist Mirella M Villa – who is still featured on this recording – has also since been replaced by Natalie Smith. Self-defined as “twee-pop-punk” (tweemo?), what’s most apparent in Tragical – apart from the manifold harmonic counters throughout – is thick reverb on the guitar, more songs with choruses, and a playfulness that wasn’t as prominent in older recordings. In fact, of the eleven songs on the album, the vast majority come across as quite cheer-full; however, the project is called Tragical after all, and the opening lyric from “Sun + Cloud” is telling: “I am stumbling out of bed to pick an outfit that says I’m fine and not dying inside.”
Amidst the various innocuous images of pink tubes, nerf guns, eight-limbed kites and dingbat fonts, there’s a complexity and gloominess to what’s being explored across these tracks. Themes of empowerment and exhaustion, clarity and confusion, relationship and reclusiveness. And damn…so many spot-on pieces of social commentary, like that line: “Boys will be boys and boys learn how to blame / To find other bodies to hold their pain” (from “Lil Fist”). There’s a reason that Tragical opens with a song about staying inside. Because all around, there are days of wicked weather. Yet, if no one ever ventures out, there won’t be anyone to spiff things up for others.