Out today from synth pop mainstay, Trust is the sophomore effort, Joyland. Their debut LP, TRST received much critical acclaim and cemented their reputation as one of the foremost electronic pop acts around today. Using 90’s influenced synth tones in a popular music forms, they fell somewhere in between the Lo-Fi work of Grimes and the mood altering exploits of shoe gaze acts like Salem. Shortly after that release, Trust became a solo effort as Maya Postepski left the Toronto band to focus on her Austra project, leaving Robert Alfons to take the reins alone. Fortunately, this split has not affected the Trust sound at all as demonstrated by this latest offering.
Alfons’ unique voice, which delivered the unmistakable vocals on that seminal debut, still dominates the foreground. On Capitol, the second single and 3rd track on the album, it’s the grain of his voice that cuts through the saw tooth bass-lines and trance-influenced synths. The 90’s influenced sonic palette is still present and on this occasion a piano riff that echoes something of Robert Miles’ children accompanies the opening bars. But only for a moment before it falls into a minor chord and Alfons’ distinctive voice cuts through in a monotone before jumping to the chorus. Accompanied by big synths covered in a layer of fuzz his voice rises above it all to the point of glorious falsetto toward the end. Showcasing his incredible range. The insistence on 90’s sounding synths does wear out its welcome a bit on title track Joyland, where it’s hard to discern a noticeable difference from just plain nostalgia. The female-like processed vocals do not offer the same juxtaposition that makes Trust so distinguishable from other artists dealing in the same aesthetics and the effect is a track that sounds like it has just been transplanted from another time.
Luckily this is a solitary instance and Are We Arc soon re-establishes that happy balance between the macabre vocals over brightly tuned synths playing catchy hooks. The processed female instance of Robert’s vocals, that like the album cover for TRST negated any gender association, still crop up on occasion but are less incessant and alleviates any fatigue the listener might have encountered from having to only endure Alfons’ vocal throughout. Although I can’t really see that happening as even when it is only Alfons at the microphone, the tones he produces and the range he has to offer – from the monotonous talk-like vocal to the screaming melodic variation – is quite appealing just in itself. It is especially highlighted on the finale, Barely, The intro sees him deliver an emotive melody that could rival any great vocalist, just before the pan piped synth calls in a beat again. I never thought I would ever have an occasion to mention a panpipe in a positive context, but there it is. And like much of the album, Robert Alfons re-appropriates tawdry elements in an accessible package for an esoteric audience. If you listen to the opening of Peer Pressure for instance you’d be forgiven in thinking you are hearing a a-typical Trance track, but then the vocal and detuned synth parts all vehemently deny classification and you realise you are in fact listening to Trust.
Apart from opening track, Slightly Floating, there is continuous pre-dominant focus on a driving beat at the foundation of the tracks. Although I have not measured it, I daresay the tempos have also increased for this album. It injects the tracks with a bit of adrenalin and the lazy haze that made up much of the last album is for the most part missing. It is clearly not a dance record, but you’d definitely be gyrating in its presence, regardless of the occasion.
Four Gut is a personal favourite and it has similarities to Chrissy E from TRST. It seems that Trust is sticking to the tried and tested formula that produced that magnificent debut, with slight adjustments. The textures do have definite relations to trance aesthetics but Joyland tends to eschew stereotypes and it helps deliver the album out of any lasting associations with that or any other genre in fact. In a time when so many artists are bucking to trend, it is good to see an artist like Trust running the course. Joyland’s overall pop form and influences drawn from dance textures make great bedfellows. But it is all very much held together when combined with Robert Alfons’ distinctive vocal grain.
From opener Slightly Floating to Barely, Joyland is an album that will definitely hold your attention throughout and brings us more of the same that we are used to from this talented artist. It’s a great follow-up to TRST. There does seem to be more rounded finalisation during the production processes but it doesn’t much affect the overall tone of this album and if anything will probably appeal to a bigger audience.