Graded on a Curve: Tomato Flower, “Construction” EP

In February of 2022, Baltimore outfit Tomato Flower released their debut EP, the digital-only 6-song effort “Gold Arc,” and now here’s its follow-up, the “Construction” EP, which delivers another sharp half-dozen available August 5 from the Ramp Local label on cassette in an edition of 500 copies and on compact disc in an edition of 1,000. Even better: the songs from “Gold Arc” are added to both. It all arrives ahead of tour dates in support of Animal Collective from mid-August into early September.

With “Gold Arc,” Tomato Flower provided an introduction that was inviting yet not so easy to pigeonhole. On tracks like “Red Machine” and “World to Come” they could sound like a moderately scaled back Stereolab in pop mode, a similarity deepened by the vocals of Austyn Wohlers, who also plays guitar, synth, and on the new EP’s “Aparecida,” flute. But there were also elements reminiscent of post-rock along with structural complexities that could bring math-rock (i.e., prog) to mind.

Jamison Murphy handles the other guitar plus vocals on both Tomato Flower EPs, and on five of the tracks on the new set, he takes care of bass duties, while Mike Alfieri is the drummer; on one “Construction” track, “Fancy,” Alfieri plays bass. Ruby Mars has since joined the band as bassist, which will obviously help with those upcoming live performances and should strengthen an already powerful sound on further recordings (as work on their debut full-length is currently underway).

Furthermore, the potency of Tomato Flower’s approach stems in part from an atmosphere of songs built and honed by individuals together in a room (the title of the new EP is fitting), though clearly, no assumptions should be made regarding how the tracks on either EP came to fruition. Notably, the recording process for both began in 2019 but carried on into 2021; it’s fitting that the two EPs are now combined on one physical release.

While “Gold Arc” opened with the sizeable groove of “Red Machine,” at the start of “Construction” the thrust is moodier, as “Bug”’s emergence with a cymbal wash suggests the song is already in progress. Wohlers’ singing is no less pretty, but here, as the track unwinds at a slower tempo, the aura is much more tense, at moments hitting like early Scritti Politti blended with ’80s downtown NYC post-no wave art-pop.

But “Aparecida” reestablishes the groove and reasserts the prior EP’s flashes of Tropicalia flavor, as the Murphy-sung cut radiates a vibe similar to Sean Lennon circa Into the Sun. Next is “Blue,” where the band seamlessly alternates jaunts of echoey wiggle with passages of grand vocal sweep, and then the title track arrives and essentially runs the gamut of Tomato Flower’s sound, beginning with prickly proggy angularity only to layer in vocal harmonies and brief melodious redirects on the way to a sustained rhythmical outpouring at the finale.

If not a heavy band, “Fancy” underscores no shortage of rockish (though certainly not rockist) heft in Tomato Flower’s approach. Wrapping up the “Construction” EP, “Taking My Time” dishes a few appealing synth textures that stir sweet visions of the band in a studio with an honest to goodness mellotron. Here’s hoping.

Of the tracks from “Gold Arc,” “Truth Lounge” gives the Stereolab angle a darker, post-punky twist and some raucous guitar stomp, while the brief “Lover’s Arc” toys with ’70s AM radio retro pop ambience before kicking into a higher glistening gliding gear with some almost motorik action underneath and Wohlers’ pipes on top.

Listening to the two EPs in close proximity, the contents really do connect as flowing from the same sustained spout of inspiration, with “Stone” from “Gold Arc” pairing well with the title track from “Construction,” and “Shying,” the final cut from the debut, offering an art-pop statement as fully developed and gorgeous as anything heard on the follow-up. In short, “Construction” extends an exciting arrival on the scene as Tomato Flower are a band to watch.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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