Reckoning With Reptile Tile

by | May 11, 2020 | MUSIC

D.T. Jones wraps his head around Hot Tropic, the brobdignagian 6-hour quadruple LP released a couple years back by zany musical experimentalists Reptile Tile.

“One does not simply listen to Hot Tropic. Its black tones are guarded by more than distortion. There are beats there that do not sleep. Reptile Tile is ever watchful. It is a music wasteland, riddled with noise, angst, and twang. The very foot you tap is a poisonous sound. Not with ten thousand seconds could you do this. It is folly.” ~ That guy from that movie

A band of evil mages calling themselves Reptile Tile have conjured a monster album with a wingspan of 134 tracks. While slightly shorter than a marathon viewing of The Lord of the Rings, or listening to the entire Led Zeppelin discography, Hot Tropic stretches over six and a half hours. A daunting task for any listener, casual or critical, my quickest journey through the complete album was a twelve-hour trek, requiring several breaks. Five complete listening runs later, I felt confident enough to write this review, having spent more than 60 hours absorbing this album. If you’re looking for a set of tapes (four!) to follow along with your Teddy Ruxpin cassette-playing doll, Richmond’s Hand To Mouth began shipping them out last month.

I prepared for this draconian adventure with all the number-crunching wisdom and stoic resolve of battle-tested nerds; I created a spreadsheet. I listened through linearly the first time, making occasional notes about my favorite and least favorite tracks. Songs felt like adventures… finding chests, besting challenges, or fighting bosses. I felt like I was mapping out an 8-bit Nintendo Role-Playing Game. As you’d expect, some of those first impressions endured metamorphoses, both slight and drastic, over the course of four months, until the sketches began to look like a map.

41 tracks come in under two minutes – quick and catchy tunes, glimpses of songs that might be fleshed out, and sporadic interludes that last less than sixty seconds. 11 tracks exceed five minutes, including several ambient forays and half a dozen skits. Thematically, there are a lot of songs that deal with sex, relationships, and gender/orientation fluidity. There’s an undercurrent of fascination with science, biology in particular, balanced with intermittent religious musings. This sense of balance, that honestly sounds imbalanced at times (off meds? self-medicating?), also seems to be echoed by examinations of narcissism in the face of global conspiracy or cosmic horror.

Having completed the Hot Tropic game once, I decided to use a cheat code to skip around to my favorite levels. There are over 60 tracks I found enjoyable, which is about as long as their previous record, RTT Greatest Hits. The album becomes manageable when whittled down to 30 or so favorites, earning viability for vinyl release as a double LP. Simply giving away these hidden gems in an easily digestible format, however, seems counter to the spirit of obsession required for finding them in the first place. I had to wade through an almost equal number of insufferable tracks to find the “Diamond Dogs.”

Maybe this is my relenting acknowledgement that obfuscation and exclusion have always been effective weapons for musical cabals. It’s okay for an album like this to alienate people with basic tastes that can be fed by the same songs every day. Let the troglodytes cower in the dark with their precious nu-metal, country-club country, and auto-tuned mumbling while they wait for the beat to drop. Reptile Tile is here to destroy the radio that rules them all.

Side A – #1-17 – 54:39, Side B – #18-33 – 54:43, Side C – #34-53 – 54:34, Side D – #54-71 – 54:23, Side E – #72-90 – 52:38, Side F – #91-109 – 51:21, Side G – #110-125 – 52:31, Side H – #126-134  -29:35

  1. The Vietnamese Restaurant (03:14) Hanging with Brian Eno at What the Pho! on Shore Drive.
  2. Babecia (02:47) Babesia is a protozoan blood parasite, at least that’s what Google tells me. That makes this a creepy Floydian ballad to hemolytic disease.
  3. Found a Sick Coin (02:59) An infectious Aphex Twin / Postal Service vibe punctuated by lyrics that alternate between spoken word and depressed droning; closes out by mirroring the electro-beat with tribal percussion.
  4. Butterfly (02:08) This butterfly tramp stamp is hidden by a leather corset on a lady with abundant eyeliner. Suddenly she’s in an elevator.
  5. Happy Birthday, Richmond (06:39) Sounds like the Foley artist from Star Wars took shrooms and hallucinated that he was John Doe from Se7en.
  6. Stretched by Plastic (02:52) Strangely sexual: unconventional percussion and what sounds like quiet samples of train noises punctuate a steamy 80’s synth line coupled with subdued bow-chicka-wow-wow guitar.
  7. Don’t Know a Thing About You (01:24) An angsty Asperger’s teen improvises lyrics over a cut-rate karaoke version of “Dancing in the Dark” because he’s the only one left awake at a boozy birthday party for his fading crush.
  8. Boy from Mamaroneck, NY (Original) (03:53) A Modestly Mousy traveler absconds with their weird yelling and tangy tones on behalf of frustrated loverboys.
  9. Snake Oil (03:35) Extremely listenable Sixties pop that promises the band is not just fucking around with their instruments or your feelings. Well, maybe.
  10. Remove the Spec (02:40) Mathy riffs underscore the Cheshire Cat viscerally mocking Alice.
  11. Equator Bop (02:58) The soundtrack to discovering that The B-52s are coked-out aliens looking for a place to land. They crash in Twin Peaks.
  12. Hotta (03:08) Flight of the Conchords made an R&B pantydropper about narcissistic jealousy at a dance club.
  13. The Pig (02:29) This is what Stockholm Syndrome sounds like. It cuddles up with a trickling Sound Matrix beat, then jackhammers your ears into a glitchy, cacophonic paste.
  14. Adam Montafar (02:27) Feedback infused robot polka complete with shakers. You are now a sleeper agent programmed to assassinate on cue.
  15. 6 Flags (02:34) Ever done acid on a roller coaster with David Byrne, then invited a parade of costumed characters back to the hotel?
  16. Soccoro (04:21) Jens Lekman fronting early Broken Social Scene. Haunted by echoes of ascending backup vox but tied to reality with a killer bass groove.
  17. Open (04:23) Prometheus steals thunder from The Mamas & the Papas then starts a fire with the lightning. A grand exit for Side A.
  18. Flicks and Pops (05:10) Side B begins! Prospective score for the opening sequence of the new Blade Runner movi,e peppered with sparse lyrics.
  19. I Don’t Like It (03:37) A series of serial killers read Dr. Seuss.
  20. New York Hole Foods (04:21) A crust-punk-Seinfeld skit about the confusion endured when a stoner tries to bum change from a drug-dealing grocery store cashier. Trippy looping samples and R2-D2 on bass.
  21. Bohemian Gardens (02:29) Porn breathing and flesh clapping sound effects glom on this love letter to mutually kissing classic movie monsters on the mouth and ritual fisting – just because.
  22. Creature (02:55) Sounds like a Benedictine monk got too drunk on sacramental wine and started a R’lyeh-ian cult while listening to Joan of Arc’s The Gap.
  23. L. Starvation’s Piano (00:58) Chopin wrote a horror movie theme. My favorite of the interludes.
  24. Crawl Space (03:02) Sebadoh hijinks with a few off-kilter breakdowns and emo yelps slipped in for good measure.
  25. Walk Clearly For the Christ (01:35) Manic sacrilegious humor with creepy voices and catchy drums. “Who needs a soul when the choice is heaven or parole?”
  26. Tiny Little Bad Boy (01:27) An ode to finger-banging and smoking weed out of apples. Wouldn’t feel out of place on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
  27. Shout out to Essex (02:00) Listening to your own heartbeat and the aircraft engines idling before takeoff.
  28. Getting Back with my Ex (03:29) Like LCD Soundsystem covering “I’m Too Sexy” for repeat relationshippers. Vulnerability and swaggering hubris race the cowbell beat to a white-noise finish.
  29. Bacteria Boy (05:19) The band practices an unfinished song when, all of a sudden, an office Christmas party drunkenly crashes in, talking trash and singing dumb shit.
  30. The Last Friday Night Until the End of the World (02:09) Gorillaz chillwave during the apocalypse after a long week of work. Like going out with a womp-wompering bang.
  31. New Home: Pluto (09:05) You’re the first astro-pioneers to start a colony on the dwarf planet. While exploring, you and your family are incapacitated via sonic nausea. You come to groggy, restrained, and under examination by rogue sentient miner-bots. Failure to comprehend their attempts at communication leads to brain liquefaction.
  32. Raw Diet (03:44) Like most diets, it does nothing for me.
  33. 12 Years Old (02:42) Side B bops to a stop with this capricious parody of precociousness, a feral mallrat fem punk tantrum anthem.
  34. Special Announcement (All Members of RTT) (02:45) Side C finds Reptile Tile back from the future to hog the mic at an Eighties prom. A mildly amusing call for reality TV show applicants and strict drug test policies.
  35. I Quit (02:38) Pure torture concentrate. Law enforcement agencies will blast this at militant cult compounds before raids.
  36. Try to Understand (03:16) Martin Rev of Suicide might like this one.
  37. Connor Culliver (01:50) New Wave diss track rife with faux-Brit insults.
  38. Spare-the-Timetimes (02:18) An unreleased Knight Rider theme by Jonathan Richman?
  39. Mere (00:51) Open mic night at the Vietnamese restaurant gets wild and crazy, kids.
  40. Dogtooth (02:47) Pitching an episode concept to the creators of Squidbillies with musical accompaniment.
  41. Hot Decembers (02:14) Nico velvetly bitches about winter weather in Virginia. “I wanna smack the shit out of you” lilts and lingers.
  42. Girl (02:15) Declares itself a “modern trap banger” before emulating a strung out Men At Work performance.
  43. Cold (I. Tredge / Mythological warzone; Non-Seq) (02:48) An audio collage created by gremlins that broke into the sound booth and started pushing buttons.
  44. Richard’s Always On the Phone (07:34) George Michael covets Richard, the lead singer of a band… and his girlfriend. Then, almost three minutes of silence is followed by more brainwash music.
  45. Death of the Shopping Whore (01:27) A jangle-funk beat poem about how “a black market devil is a white aristocrat.”
  46. Porn Baby (04:00) A skit about a rock star interviewee who gets awkward, hostile, and lost in thoughts that lead to sick, desperate laughter. The gentle guitar work in the background is brilliant: calming at first, then slyly sinister.
  47. Tiki Bar (06:01) I’m pretty sure this song plays in Hell, or it’s a six-minute slice of Hell’s eternal cake. Either way, I can’t stomach this.
  48. The Lake (Without Water) (03:17) A Belle and Sebastian lament bleeds into funky Yo La Tengo territory.
  49. Mark Well the Name (02:27) Skip the circus ringmaster begging, “Take me away to a wonderful place,” during the first half. The latter conjures Neil Young’s score of Dead Man if you didn’t skip yet.
  50. Nothing is Whitewashed (02:03) I closed my eyes to be terrified by visions of a post-apocalyptic Punch & Judy show. My least favorite track because it’s a gravestone for a potentially good song.
  51. Sea Shore State Park (01:06) Perfectly timed palette-cleansing distortion.
  52. Rhododendron (01:30) Opium-drenched Victorian post-punk. Possible flashback encounters when next you see a gaggle of steampunks.
  53. Cobra – Crown (01:17) Side C buries itself with a bizarre and polarizing little ditty about Jack and Diane’s kid having a bad trip: “I saw daddy mating with a housefly…”
  54. Dogs Outside of their Crates (01:30) Side D opens on a freshly fired Animal Control officer singing softly at the full moon.
  55. How it Makes us Feel When U Quit (03:09) What sounds like a sad song with skittish lyrics gives way to a smirking series of shoutouts to each band member.
  56. Art Knocc (03:07) Final Fantasy has a new fight song for dystopian lab settings.
  57. Tuckers Camp Crush (02:06) Summer love gets organ-ized and eulogized.
  58. Tucker can’t go outside (02:42) Cheesy science show theme skirts about a skit: Tucker begs his histrionic mother against stacked odds to go outside, get a Sega, or become a time traveler.
  59. Samuel’s Raga (03:45) Devendra Banjo-heart and a chorus of whispering intercom angels.
  60. Grey Hound Station (07:28) News channel sound bites and a plethora of aimless experimentation.
  61. Springtime Again (with Sun Ra) (01:28) Dead Milkmen dance punk. Ear crack.
  62. P5-62-SSX (02:21) Cyborg lounge music leads to stoned pontificating about how old our reptilian overlords might be.
  63. 6 Penises (01:02) Thankfully brief Mickey Mousing of debaucherous logistics.
  64. “Afuturus esse.” (05:02) Climax of the new Blade Runner.
  65. Cloud Forest (01:55) Alt-universe Atom and His Package tinged by The Cure’s handclaps and sax from “Close to Me”
  66. Christine (01:20) A pristine twee duet.
  67. I am a Sexual Being (02:58) The Borg talk about sex and predict Hillary Clinton’s presidency. “How about that Donald Trump? Ooohh.” A dated diatribe on an otherwise timeless album.
  68. Skin (03:36) Hypnotic stream-of-garbageness. Run the Jewels remixed their entire second album with cat noises. This song should be remixed with bleating goats.
  69. Laksjgfas (03:41) A supply team from Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, is doomed when they investigate the SOS beacon on Pluto.
  70. Infinite Soliloquy (04:27) An abrasive industrial banger. The narrator repeatedly claims that “I would never sell drugs to kids.” Streaming samples of children’s voices contribute to suspicion.
  71. Something in the Water (02:42) Side D concludes in an ekphrastic condensed musical of Coppola’s The Conversation describing thalassophobia with sound effects and suspense.
  72. Better Like Yourself !!! (02:40) Side E kicks off with glam self-help digi-gospel. Pass the plate.
  73. I Will be King (01:44) A jaunty little tune about casual delusions of ordained power.
  74. White Marble Amethyst (04:56) A second helping of self-help digi-gospel; less glam, more guided meditation gone wrong. A long way to go for a few laughs.
  75. Analyzing the Sociopolitical Implications of My Huge, Throbbing, Silver, Striped Cock (04:35) The title is evocative of the range and pitch of throbbing sounds that you’ll hear, though the analysis remains inconclusive.
  76. Doesn’t need 1 (03:24) Possessed broken cuckoo clocks murder an electric violin and kidnap a guitar at knifepoint! Details at 11!
  77. Charity Race (02:09) Solemn, breathy vocals complemented by thrumming rounds of chants and samples of a soprano looped as part of the beat. Brilliant.
  78. Allure (01:48) Björk meets Amy Winehouse. Doo wop & bubblegum keys cleaved by a blues riff bridge: deal sealed.
  79. Laser Eyes (03:03) In the shapeshifting reptilian reboot of Dirty Dancing this replaces the climactic duet. Stuck in my head for days.
  80. Vines In the Village (00:26) Frenetic interlude. Enjoyable because it’s short, as nonsense should be.
  81. the Water Bear (01:58) Wesley Willis is dead. Long live Wesley Willis.
  82. My Mom and Dad (02:47) A Devo-ish account of teenage sexploration complicated by parents. A fervent climax pops cloyingly earnest vocals before devolving into a rave.
  83. Enemy Sex (01:15) Throwaway ode to revenge fucking. Simpler, shorter spiritual successor to “Getting Back with my Ex.”
  84. Courthouse Blues (01:14) Sounds like found footage of Johnny Cash and June Carter rehearsing before a show.
  85. Politics of Sucking Dick (05:32) As repetitious and boring as the politics it might otherwise be mocking.
  86. Kung Fu (01:10) This track knows nothing about kung fu.
  87. Take the Clock (02:10) I zone out during this wannabe prog rock almost every time. It’s strangely comfortable in spite of the grumbled lyrics.
  88. Tinker Tantrum (00:52) Chirping electronic jungle interlude.
  89. Exodus, Now! (03:34) The Smiths vibe gently starts things off, but the song is quickly usurped by a wailing riff, subsequent distortion, and hypnotic angular rhythm.
  90. Ganesh is the Best (05:15) A Kaufmanesque episode of Portlandia. Caricaturization of white hippie cultural appropriation becomes indistinguishable from horrid method acting. Side E ends.
  91. Syl Houetta (07:17) Side F starts as a promising beat with a catchy riff, then quickly curls up and dies.
  92. Flutterby (03:35) Tom Paris got drunk on Voyager’s holodeck revisiting Cosmic Key jams from Masters of the Universe.
  93. What Could Excite Me Now? (01:37) Johnny Marr’s jangle jungle is a bit of a tease.
  94. Life in Plants (00:57) A pleasantly boppy/chirpy interlude.
  95. Psycho Dub Bitch Talks Scientist Until Self-Destruct (04:08) Political quotes about socialism over bellydancing music, then a minute and a half of dead air.
  96. Smol (01:53) John Carpenter tooling around with his reel-to-reel collection of radio astronomy recordings.
  97. Mark Slept with Kathy (03:36) Jealous sex machine musical skit.
  98. Welcome to Hell (04:24) Dub voodoo creepin’ with gang vocals. An unexpected pleasure. 
  99. You’re not my Sister (03:34) Bollywood remakes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Theater cam-pirates pick the wrong theater to record in.
  100. The Paper Boy (01:58) Creepy Tiki bongo murder theme.
  101. Leather Lovers (Lock Up) (01:32) Modern (Bondage) English.
  102. Call your mother soon (02:04) The Glossolalian chorus thinks you make no sense with words, so they get louder.
  103. Fermented Night (04:16) Crocodile Dundee hunting werewolves.
  104. Palm Leaves (02:51) Joanna Newsom covering Cat Power might incur similar feelings. Gloriously hushed and weird.
  105. Lonnie (01:51) Existential relations droid drone.
  106. Taco Bell Boy, Pt. 1 (01:36) Lonely fast food slow jam.
  107. Taco Bell Boy, Part II (02:14) Chickens cluck and guitars pluck behind the story a man tells about his wife gawking at the size of “jumbo” shrimp.
  108. Why You Got So Many Holes? (00:41) Nobody expects the Tentacle Inquisition, and nobody wants it.
  109. Sensual Kutt (03:02) Side F closes with the closest thing to hip hop in this climate. Seems like a lost opportunity to honor Dr. Octagon.
  110. Midnight Birds (07:47) Eight minutes of artless noise birth Side G. I’d rather microwave a wah-wah pedal.
  111. When the Jungle Attacks (03:27) Gene Wilder having a nightmare about pursuing Oompa Loompas in Tim Burton’s chocolate mess.
  112. The Jungle Newt (02:16) Bullshit beats and lyrics that somehow work. “Hail to the Jungle Newt. He’s so cute.” Wesley Willis, Rastafari.
  113. Gold Dust (02:35) Weird Al relates his escape from Nurse Ratched while Danny Devito does interpretive dance.
  114. Aquantico Chasm (01:27) Androids mumbling over samples of washing/drying hands. It’s 5AM… I wonder if I’m losing it. I listen again. Yep, probably.
  115. Yancyhoyer (04:12) Kings of Convenience corrupting Joy Division’s “Isolation,” trailed by two minutes of silence.
  116. tricon’s beat (00:55) Aloha Mario interlude.
  117. Photograph of Venus (01:28) I enjoy silly mantras but this offers nothing more.
  118. DNA Staircase (02:42) Slowly builds and twists like it’s the secret key to Reptile Tile’s evolution.
  119. you won’t survive (03:38) This has been a Public Service Announcement that can also be used as exit music for the biopic of your life.
  120. All Toads Are Joan’s (01:43) Swampy blues are emo-blasted away by the song’s most urgent message.
  121. Silk Worm 2 (01:57) Angry sewing machine krautrock.
  122. Kiwi and Ellen’s Annual Friendship Renewal Ceremony (08:09) Adorably silly declaration of mutual adoration followed by improv Twitter Q&A.
  123. N.O.R. (04:06) Allen Ginsberg spouting off at the head of the Beat Poet Army, marching them into prog jam oblivion.
  124. House of Evolution (01:56) Verbal defecation in piano shops.
  125. Spice Track (04:09) Ace of Base gets lost in the hood looking for weed. Side G grinds to a halt.
  126. Basement Party (02:07) Side H launches by throwing a chiptune into a distortion sausage grinder.
  127. Survey (01:58) What do you usually say when someone asks you to take a survey? No.
  128. Golden Seal (01:44) The Magnetic Fields find love song #70: palm-muted pep with perfect synth accents.
  129. Boiler Love (02:11) Appliances in the sub-basement find comfort in each other through excessive repetition on a forgotten keyboard.
  130. Jessica Rabbit Framed Roger Rabbit (Duh) (01:55) I’m a fan of the movie, not this.
  131. Let Go of Straight People (01:29) Like a queer, tongue-in-cheek “Meat is Murder” that’s not quite up to par.
  132. Social Media Whore (02:52) Nine Inch Nails is never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. Your friends might. Quit liking shit on InstaFace.
  133. Open (closed.) (04:02) A distorted reprise for one of the album’s best songs.
  134. Lost my Head in the Cloud Forest (11:12) Tangerine dreaming in the ambience of the album’s longest track is a fitting way to drift through the curtain call.

This article, originally published by the now-defunct AltDaily in 2016, is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Top Photo via Reptile Tile/Bandcamp

D. T. Jones

D. T. Jones

D. T. Jones has previously written about music for Landmark Media, Whurk Magazine, AltDaily.com, and POPSCURE. He is also sometimes a screenwriter, a poet, and a purveyor of bad jokes.




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