Lugubrious. Lugubrious. Lugubrious. The single best thing about the new album from TR/ST is that you can justifiably call it lugubrious. A word that no matter how you approach it, is delicious to say. The most obvious reason why being Robert Alfons’ voice. A voice which is part Garden of Eden serpent whispering nefarious suggestions to Adam, part the dark croon of an undead lounge singer and almost entirely lugubrious.
His is the kind of voice which drips from the ceiling and you can’t get out of the carpet. Most of the time, anyway. Throughout Joyland, in addition to creeping about the shadows with syllables heavy with hungry lust, Alfons takes his voice and chucks it in all manner of directions. Pitching it up and distorting it about with the giddy abandon with a kid in a candy store. Until he sounds like a kid in a candy store.
One of those candy stores where they sell helium filled sweets. It’s a disorientating trick, and one that goes along way towards making Joyland a disorientating album. It is a feeling that was also present on his first album TR/ST. This a record which is clearly oriented at the dancefloor, but in a really introverted kind of way. Music for the solipsist generation.
Which is intriguing. Although the opening is deceptive. Slightly Floating throws the voice from pillar to post, but it’s riding a electronic wave that is more of a gentle undulation than the pounding oscillation present elsewhere. For example the following Geryon, which gets things pumping. Capitol adds a relentless robotic marching beat to glittery, galaxy spanning synths, while Joyland is perhaps the best example of Alfons’ ability to sound like a ventriloquist and his dummy within the same verse.
The album then hinges around Are We Arc? That feels like a breather, a chance for the BPM to drop and for things to gently wind into a more plaintive, calmer space. Following that, Joyland once more girds its loins. Icabod is part Temptation by Heaven 17 and part the trashiest, dingiest, basement Italo-disco you’ve never been to. The stern Rescue, Mister is the Nine Inch Nails in a feather boa blowing a whistle.
Back to songs which implore you to get your head down, deftly managing a build-hold-break-release cycle that really, really make you want to dance – albeit always alone. And in many ways, the cold, queasy feeling present across the hedonism elevates it way above where the slightly disposable nature of the core ingredients could have left it.
Plus, the man knows to end a night on a high. Leaving the best moment for last, Barely is a glorious encapsulation of what TR/ST does; a yearning vocal heavy with longing, glittering synths that swoop and swirl, with a sweaty throbbing pulse driving it onwards. So while not a reinvention, Joyland does an excellent job of sharpening and streamlining TR/ST’s sound into something even better than that displayed on the debut. It is an album of truly lugubrious pleasure.