If there was one outfit that’s taken us by surprise in recent times, it’s TRUST – the Toronto-based electronic music combo who delivered up the sleazy synth delights of 2012’s debut album TRST.
At times, Trust delivered a sound like an electropop outfit fronted by Leonard Cohen with a collection of songs that had their focus on the seedier and grimy corners of humanity – an easy task for the brooding vocal talents of Robert Alfons alongside his co-conspirator Maya Postepski.
Now comes Joyland, the follow-up release to TRST and an album that marks a transition of sorts for our favourite sordid synth outfit. The most dramatic change is the departure of Postepski, who was already balancing her time in Trust with fellow Canadian outfit Austra. Now switching her focus more on Austra – as well as her solo creative project as Princess Century – Trust is left under the sole gaze of Alfons, a character once likened to a “Goth Eeyore”.
TRST was an album of hidden delights whose wonders were often obscured in layers of sinister and forbidding shadows. There was a ominous bass-heavy feel to the likes of ‘Shoom’ and ‘Bulbform’ for instance, while tunes such as ‘Dressed For Space’ had a desperate joy about them. With such a monumental release as a predecessor, Joyland has a lot to measure up to by comparison.
The first thing that’s apparent is that there’s a much lighter touch to the material on Joyland. On TRST, it was all about descending into the earth to mine the filthy depths. Conversely, its follow-up often seems like more of a mountaineering expedition in pursuit of the Joyland of the title.
‘Slightly Floating’ acts as something of an intro to the album as a whole. It’s a brief shimmering dream of a tune that is, perhaps, at odds with the songs contained within.
With ‘Geryon’ we’re treated to skewed synth tones and an indistinct vocal delivery from Alfons. Students of the Greek myths will recognise ‘Geryon’ as being a bizarre creature (grandson of Medusa no less) with three heads who battled Greek hero Heracles. It’s probably an apt analogy for Alfons’ approach to the album who, in the absence of Postepski, plays around with both his vocal range as well as distorting and treating his delivery for effect. Why settle for one Alfons when you can have three?
‘Geryon’ was one of the new songs to have been previewed at Trust gigs last year. It’s a zippier tune than you’d expect and suggests that this new incarnation of Trust is keen to encourage people to dance it up a bit.
The synth strings of ‘Capitol’ keep this dance sensibility going with a tune that manages to combine something both joyful and unsettling at the same time. Like a half-forgotten dream, ‘Capitol’ lingers with you long after you’ve experienced it.
Title track Joyland emerges as one of the highlights of the album. It’s possibly the most extreme example of Alfons tweaking his vocals for effect, here altering the pitch to emerge like some disturbing Pinky and Perky character on this energetic slice of dark joy.
The pace slows down somewhat for the sober tones of ‘Are We Arc?’ which offers up a particularly effective monument to melancholy. Meanwhile, ‘Icabod’ spins things back up again with its skittish percussion and insistent melodies. But in keeping with the album’s desire to mix things up, the track changes gear 3 minutes in to offer up some emotive vocal trills.
With a nod towards Trst-era sleaziness, ‘Four Gut’ gives us some of that early, dense layering with its burbling electronic effects. As a result it delivers an unsettling contrast to the brighter moments on Joyland.
Most people’s first proper taste of Joyland came courtesy of the regimented beats of ‘Rescue, Mister’, which was previewed at the start of the year. The rapid-fire melodies and tweaked vocals are certainly one of the album’s standout moments and demonstrates the strengths of Alfons’ new approach.
‘Lost Souls Eelings’ offers up an effective combination of dance beats and brutal synths on this gothic club number. ‘Peer Pressure’, meanwhile, keeps the tempo going with a percussive soundscape over which the ethereal vocals soar like some lost soul.
Joyland may come as a disappointment to some expecting a retread of the sleazy synths of its predecessor. Here, Alfons has taken the decision to explore new avenues. As a result, you’re getting a different flavour of Trust as Alfons opts to experiment and stretch his abilities. Its nod to dance beats and happier tunes (or, at least, as happy as a character like Alfons can get) still sets it apart in an era where originality and freshness is a welcome component of any electronic act.