The press blurb says “If Morton Feldman, John Cage and David Tudor had formed a rock band, they might have sounded a bit like this.” Now. Far be it from me to pick holes in press releases [and to be fair they were quoting a review of an earlier record- ed.] – everything needs a bit of fluff to buoy it up – that’s a bit of a far stretch. This is far too busy a record to get anywhere near Feldman, and far too tonal to be anything like Cage. That’s not to say it’s anything like (say) Naked City but it’s a far cry from the frozen vertiginous inertia of Feldman.It’s unfair of me to say that as the opening salvo though – in terms of what a lot of rock music does, this is pretty downbeat. Possibly more like John Dowland with a stinking cold at 14rpm, or the agonisingly protracted foreplay-cum-frottage of a teenage Tortoise. Chords structures stay unresolved, languorous, while skittering, fizzy drums flit in and out on whims.
The structures of the songs are tricky to pin down – second track “The Spoke and the Horse” meanders about in drawn out feedback and other tones that’s reminiscent of bits of Sonic Youth’s SYR series, but perhaps with a bit less dribble and a bit more intent – it’s certainly on the borders between AMM-style free improvisation and something a bit more thematic – it may almost be that the guitar chords are anchoring more free gestures from the other players, or it may be that it’s on-the-button prepared. Either way, it’s a good ‘un. Makes me wonder if it’s not the case that they’ve listened to a load of the freer side of things and decided to rein them in a bit with something a bit more graspable like ostensible chord cycles… which don’t so much fall apart as melt into amnesiac jazz-like gestures.It’s certainly an oddity, in a lot of ways – it’s very enjoyable, and surprisingly difficult to place. Usually with something that throws a lot of signifiers at you (ones I’ve not mentioned yet: a hyperactive Necks, Jackie-O Motherfucker…) you get a bit of a sense of derivation, but because it’s pretty plaintive, fading into quiescence, it could appear as a sort of noncommunicative, noncommital (in a good way) fractal of rock music. While I was expecting something far more sparse, and pointy, I actually got something which is more difficult to listen to.
There are some of those great moments that, if it were a loud record, would get my Dad going “are they even playing or just tuning up?” – sounds reminiscent of a fidgety band waiting for the singer to come back from the toilet. Making songs – or song-ish – structures out of that is always a good thing in my book, deferring the listeners’ attention until the actual half-melodies pop up by silent stealth.
In all honesty, I’m not yet sure if it’s a good record or not, but I’m pretty sure that I won’t make that decision until I’ve given it a great many more listens. The phrase ‘slow-burner’ is a slightly trite one, but I think it’s fair to say that Trapist have done something genuinely peculiar here that’s well worth a flash in the sun from your hard-earned beans.