Friday, March 9, 2012


By Steve Jones.

Trust is the Toronto-based duo of Robert Alfons and Maya Postepski.  TRST is their full length debut.

I can do this review in one sentence: if you are at all a fan of classic synth pop, particularly the dark or Gothic variety, you owe it to yourself to hear TRST right away.

Now, if you're curious about my personal opinion:

A good reviewer should admit his biases, but I'm going to admit mine anyway.  I love '80s synth pop with a passion.  There's been quite a resurgence of the sound lately, but I haven't enjoyed the vast majority of it.  I know that seems wrong, and even I remain a little baffled by it.  However, I have less a problem with artists reviving that classic synth pop sound and more of a problem with how they've been reviving it, which too often involves bad synth sounds, uninspired songwriting, generous swaths of reverb, and a manner of sugary lack of passion.  The chillwave movement was (is?) one of the most grievous offenders, warping a punchy, catchy pop sensibility into something bland and atmospheric.  I could appreciate the fact that it was doing something new with an old sound--I just didn't like the majority of the new stuff!  In fact, I would rather they had more directly lifted the sound of classic '80s pop.  And that's pretty much exactly what Trust does on this record.

My favorite parts of TRST arise from how good the sounds are put together.  It's not surprising, considering Maya Postepski is also a member of Austra, who put out the excellent and similarly dark-poppish Feel It Break last year.  Despite a unifying Gothic aesthetic, every song has a distinctive collection of synth sounds that prevents the album from wearing thin over its 52 minutes, which otherwise would feel rather long for this kind of album.  I'm also absolutely in love with how full each track sounds.  There's none of that tinniness or oversaturation of reverb that plague other albums.  The synth sounds have a depth and warmth to them that are reflective of their analog nature (or some damn excellent programming), and the intricacies that reveal themselves in the way the arrangements fit together are indicative of an attention to detail on Trust's part that pays off.

Of course, good sounds do not necessarily a good song make, as I made clear in my Grimes review.  But these songs are quite good.  They are nothing revolutionary in substance or style, but they do what they do, and, more importantly, they do it well.  The album strikes an appropriate balance between the pure catchiness of its pop side and the brooding melancholy of its atmospheric side, such that neither overpower the other.  Rather, they become complementary.

Probably the most "questionable" part of this album is Robert Alfonso's voice, but it can also be one of the album's greatest strengths.  His delivery is unconventional to say the least.  He mostly stays in the lower registers, and he has a slightly nasally flair on top of that.  While that may not sound appealing on its own, it turns out to be a great match for this album's aesthetic.  Nevertheless, I can understand how it may turn sour in the ears of other listeners.

There is not a single song on this album that I hate, or even one I dislike.  To highlight a few, I'd begin with "Bulbform," which starts with some harsh screeching before introducing a really dirty beat.  I again have to compliment Alfonso's voice, which does a good job of engaging with the music without losing that little detached touch to keep in line with the feel of the record.  There's also a bit of ornamentation in the form of some distorted synth chords that just rub me the right way.  The muddied horns of "Gloryhole" give way to a fantastic chiptunes-esque solo that would sound right at home in the dungeon of a Game Boy era Zelda.  "Heaven" breaks a bit from the album's formula to delve into trance, with some appropriately high-pitched synths providing a welcome bit of variety.  The album's closer "Sulk" may be my favorite track, driven by the warping of some ghostly chords that begin to fall apart as the song concludes.

TRST is simply a collection of 11 masterfully crafted and supremely catchy synth pop tunes with a pervasive Gothic/darkwave aesthetic.  I'll be the first to admit, however, that this is a supremely derivative album that offers little progression outside of the '80s synth pop sound.  Hell, you can even make a lot of comparisons to present day artists, particularly Austra and Crystal Castles.  And I know I harp on a lot of artists for sticking to a formula, for not doing something different, but I do recognize that not every album has to make that kind of statement.  In fact, given the almost comical excess of the cover's subject, I'd say that Trust knew exactly what they wanted from this album and achieved it.  It may be tempting to justify this as parody, or even tongue-in-cheek.  But I'm confident TRST was made from a genuine love and admiration of classic synth pop, with a full recognition and embracing of its strengths and weaknesses.  Trust's proficiency at recreating that sound is more than good enough for me.

Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself.

Score: Decent 8

(How hypocritical is Steve for liking this album but expressing disappointment with Grimes? Let him know in the comments, or harass him on Twitter at @vestenet.)

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