Life and all its lows
“The giant agaves outside my home only bloom every 20 or 30 years years” muses Robert Alfons, “Being around that was a powerful lesson in slowness. And in tenacity.”
The latest album from TR/ST certainly echoes this sentiment. Coming some five years after his 2014 album Joyland, Robert Alfons acknowledges that TR/ST’s output is perhaps slower than many of his contemporaries.
Having relocated to Los Angeles from his native Canada, Alfons discovered that he had exhausted his creative energies on the first two albums – as well as the rigours of touring. “I was really sort of depleted” he told Billboard in a interview. “I think I just knew the process and product of going about whatever I did next was going to have to be different. So the process was really about healing myself and then experimenting with different ideas about what a song I would put out would be.”
The Destroyer – Part One sees the culmination of that lengthy rest period. This isn’t to say that the master of sleazy synth anthems has been idle. In fact, the sheer number of tracks that he had to work with resulted in the electronic musician being intimidated himself. Rather than trying to present an audience with a daunting 16 track album, the decision was taken to divide the work into two albums.
Although ambitious in scope, there’s a natural division between the material used for both albums. The TR/ST frontman has previously described the first album as “really intense, sort of promiscuous in its sound.” The second album (scheduled for release this November) is rumoured to be much darker.
The Destroyer also sees Alfons reunited with original collaborator Maya Postepski (Austra, Princess Century). The catalyst for this reunion was a surprisingly random moment for Postepski: “I was coming home on the train with my music on random when a TR/ST song came on from the first album we made,” says Maya. “I started crying, it brought back so many memories. I sent Robert the sketches for ‘Colossal’ that night. He wrote back and we rekindled our relationship, so I find it deeply emotional every time I hear it. Had I not taken the chance and sent it who knows if we would be working together again.”
As an opening track for the album, ‘Colossal’ certainly harkens back to the sort of dark, brooding compositions that made up the 2012 Album TRST. The pulsing beat and slightly sinister aspect married with the typically obscure lyrical delivery by Alfons will sound familiar to long-term fans.
The “promiscuous” sound of this album has echoes of Joyland, which at the time seemed to be a natural evolution of the TR/ST sound. There’s a warmer quality at work here with more of a lean-in to mainstream sounds. The trademark vocal style of Alfons is also softened in places, often being more prominent in the mix (allowing listeners to get a clearer idea of the lyrics).
Nowhere is this more evident than the bittersweet pop stylings of ‘Gone’ (see The Electricity Club’s review previously). The uptempo approach and wistful vocals (“Did I ever tell you I need you/To lead me through the fog”) pack an emotional punch.
‘Unbleached’, on the other hand, pulls from a more classic TR/ST template with its murky vocals and deep layers of synth rhythms. Postepski recalls a little hesitation in sending the demo to Alfons (“he’s not gonna for it, it’s batshit crazy”). The track was recorded by the pair in Los Angeles where, as Postepski recalls, “The arpeggiated melodies reminded us, somehow, of a large group of rats running into the apocalyptic sunset.” It’s certainly a picture to conjure with!
There’s a heavy synth strings element present on ‘Grouch’ which, like ‘Gone’, seems to be a much warmer affair and some fragile moments (“Life and all its lows/Can you heal me, can you heal me/In darkness no one knows”). In an interview discussing the track with Out, Alfons throws a nod to a classic synth pop touchstone. “I really wanted this song to convey a feeling of liberation and decadence” he suggests, referencing classic Pet Shop Boys album Very. “Such emotion and drama. Even the CD’s orange jewel case had bumps on it, so sensual.”
‘Grouch’ was another track that Postepski co-wrote and produced for the album. Musing over the song’s power, she commented on how the track “makes me reminisce those awkward teenage romances, basement video games with the lights off, blasting music and escaping into [alternate] realities while being secretly in love with someone you were told not to.”
Elsewhere, there’s some industrial licks on ‘Poorly Coward’ (which at times has the spirit of Depeche Mode lurking in the background). Album closer ‘Wake With’ offers a balmy workout featuring summer vibes that intrigue and charm at the same time.
Seasoned TR/ST fans will find little to complain about on this first instalment of The Destroyer. However, if your tastes lean more towards the gothic, moodier moments that covered 2012 album TRST, then November’s offering is likely to appeal more (a taste of that album is evident on the 2017 title track, which we reviewed previously).
Robert Alfons has exercised patience in the crafting of The Destroyer, an ambitious undertaking that raises the bar from earlier outings. Judging by the material here, that patience has been rewarded by some exceptional compositions.
The Destroyer – Part One is out 19th April 2019. Pre-Order: http://smarturl.it/TheDestroyerP1
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.