Musical experimentation? Tick. Long-winded instrumentals pushing the six minute mark? Tick. Lyrics exploring internal struggles of the heart and the mind, sung earnestly in acapella? Tick. Tick. Tick.
Sidling up to the gateway of indie expressionism, Australia’s SXSW graduates The Temper Trap submit their debut album Conditions in the hopes of cementing their presence in the presumptuous – and perhaps premature – realm of “post-indie”. Admittedly, that bracket is left a bit grey, but seeing as these days musicians seem to revel in blurring the lines more and more between genres, I think it’ll suffice.
The album opens with a soulful, uplifting lament “Love Lost”, exhibiting lead singer Dougy Mandagi’s impressive vocal range. Church organs and grand guitars intertwine to bring you all the bittersweet sentiment of a wedding band turned sour, hijacked by a slightly scornful ex-lover who decided not to hold his peace. Mandagi sings of – you guessed it – a smothered spark, and the plight to relight the flame in a lacklustre relationship.
“Sweet Disposition”, the release that generated the most buzz, inclines more towards the atmospheric post-rock that dominates the whole album. It harks back to the stunning ambience created by early U2 anthems, (Think a more epically drawn-out With or Without You), whose influence the boys admit has fathered a lot of their tracks. “Science to Fear” is a fatalistic last-call to the phobia-afflicted among us. As with most of their songwriting, the content centres on the internalisation of one’s fears and desires, traipsing behind Thom Yorke’s shadow with lines like: “Watch the slow death of your way of life/There’s a science to fear, it plagues my mind”.
The Melbournites contend to weave their own patch into the ever-growing quilt of whimsical indie-folk, alongside the likes of Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes (...and the list goes on), and they make a pretty convincing case. “Conditions” is their first studio album and is bursting at the seams with genre-crossing appetisers.
The album is laced with myriad musical exploration, producing a back-catalogue of forays into the past forty years; from organ-fuelled gospel to light-hearted sixties pop arrangements and more. It’s brimming with gusto and green eagerness to explode onto the indie scene, but at times all the different directions are enough to make you dizzy. The boys are swerving around every curb, in a bid to dodge the cloistering net of clear-cut categorization. This leaves the door swinging wide open, with no indication as to what tangent they will pursue next. So in terms of assessment, this presents a challenging task. The album as a whole lacks consolidation but on the other hand is very titillating as it shows an inspiring new musical force with more than a few tricks up their sleeves.
At this stage it’s match point: I like what I’ve heard so far but am not completely blown away by it, although I see great potential that is craving unfettered release. The Temper Trap’s defining moment will come in their sophomore album, which hopefully will pursue the brilliance struck upon in the tracks such as the humbly-labelled Drum Song, an instrumental which unlike its name suggest, seeks out epic compositions and enticing bass lines. I have a feeling they’re going to be the black horse at Big Day Out, so make sure you don’t overlook them!
Sounds like: The reincarnation of Maurice Gibb mashed up with a bit of Bloc Party, TV on the Radio and Coldplay.
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