Like its predecessor, Drake Equation, Tub Ring's Fermi Paradox offers outrageously intelligent narratives on science, and the fictions that motivate it, backed by dizzyingly frenetic music that often changes genre and mood several times within a single track. They do it, however, with a significantly poppier, catchier sound that should go a long way toward liberating them from the flattering but deeply overstated comparisons to Mr. Bungle that Drake Equation elicited from fans and critics alike. The result is a deeply intelligent album that is as powerful as it is fun. As its title suggests, Fermi Paradox is often concerned not simply with science, but particularly with the myth of progress and the promise of a utopian future that so often motivates and supports it. Tub Ring is clearly not a band of techno-fetishists. Citing everyone from Shakespeare and Descartes to Asimov and the Bible, singer Kevin Gibson offers narratives of ironic utopias and dark techno-apocalypses. On "I Am the Robot," Gibson sings ironically from the point of view of a robot celebrating the new age of peace his creation implies: "I carry strength but not aggression, the fear of failure gone away/The first two races in our history that can communicate!" The irony in "I Am the Robot" and "The Way to Mars" (on which Gibson sings "All dreams and thoughts shine like stars on our way to Mars") is cunning, and is brought into stark relief by tracks like "Psychology Is B.S. (Not Science)" and "Panic the Digital," in which Gibson's cynicism is clear: "This is my cancer from my cellular phone that emits radiation that destroys my brain."
But like the best science fiction, Fermi Paradox treats science as just one among many ideologically motivated discourses: Politicians, psychologists, the consumerist fashion system are all interrogated and travestied with the same tenacity and devastating irony as science. "Invalid," for example, reads as a powerful response to post-9/11 political rhetoric: "There's guns, there's guns guns guns!/Pointed at our head every time we close our eyes, but what are we, little folk, to do about/This bakery full of lies/We don't need no one to turn out the lights for us...." The music on Fermi Paradox consistently complements Gibson's vocals and narrative content through radically diverse changes in genre and mood -- often several times within a single song. "Hands" sounds like rabid hardcore, while "The Way to Mars" is an ironically pacifying lullaby. "Panic the Digital," on the other hand, moves from a child's keyboard to an apocalyptic dirge seamlessly and organically. Each track is filled out by an orchestra of guest musicians, including members of the Handsome Family, playing everything from sitar to violin and vibraphone. While Tub Ring's catchier and more melodic sound on Fermi Paradox makes it a significantly more accessible album to new listeners, its innovative arrangements and provocative lyrics will continue to fascinate fans of Tub Ring's earlier work.