On paper, blending the likes of punk legends Siouxsie and the Banshees with the bombastic Aqua of “Barbie Girl” fame seems much less risky than it does outright ridiculous. However, on his sophomore record, Joyland, Trust’s Robert Alfons seems to not only make this concoction feasible, but entirely smooth. Debuting in 2012 with drummer Maya Postepski helping in composition, Trust was initially lumped into what critics refer to as the witch house movement alongside Salem, Holy Other, and Crystal Castles for combining the synth pop and goth rock of the 1980s with the digital synth technology of today. However, Trust became harder to classify simply under this microgenre umbrella for a few reasons. Alfons lacks the hip hop flair of many of his contemporaries, especially in choices of percussion and drum beats, and he mostly leaves the dark ambient undertones of acts like Holy Other out of his composition, but the most memorable aspect of Trust is the resonant vocals of Alfons himself. Comparable to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis or at times even Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg, Alfons prides himself on projecting a warm bass 2 in a typically subterranean tessitura, comfortable in a range where most singers could only dream of descending to.
That being said, opener “Slightly Floating” combines the bright house synths with an electronic keyboard bass that mirrors Alfons’s voice as he sings the opening lines. The shimmering echoes of each chord create a textured swirl, preparing the listener for what is to come. As Joyland unfolds, the listener is greeted with a mix of house and techno soundscapes that serve as a unique and memorable juxtaposition for Alfons’s lovely voice. Tracks like “Capitol” blow the club-sized EDM up to stadium-sized proportions, only to break these anthems down and bury them in layers of ethereal digital synthesizers. The acid techno programmed drums of “Four Gut” mesh with layers of bombastic synths that seem to draw from several different movements of EDM while Alfons croons in a way that would not feel out of place in a 70s post-punk band. In this track, Alfons goes from beefy Ian Curtis to full-on Rammstein, growling in a truly emotive performance. Finally, album closer “Barely” builds from a skeletal synthesized structure into a fully-arching EDM groove, complete with R&B drums and Alfons’s signature voice. The song finishes the album out on a cacophony of artificial horns and keyboard explosions, creating one of the album’s most remarkable highlights. Over the course of these 11 cuts, Trust introduces a collection of songs that appear to draw from all over EDM’s rich palette and infuse them with post-punk vocals for an interesting experience.
It is interesting to consider how these compositions feel so full with such little instrumentation going on at a given time. Vocal harmonies are almost absent, as Alfons’s voice takes center stage. While serving as decent accompaniment to the synths and bass, the drum patterns are never too lavish or complex, as to not distract the listener from the dreamy soundscapes played on keys. Indeed, much of the album would feel skeletal if not for the timbres of these bright, playful synthesizers that play opposite to the singing. “Are We Arc?” features darker arpeggiation that would not find itself out of place on a Depeche Mode track, whereas the fat bass lead of “Rescue, Mister” acts almost as an electronic interpretation of Trust’s post-punk roots. “Geryon” is reminiscent of many 90s EDM acts such as Tiesto or the Prodigy, with its whimsical, but full sounding keyboard leads.
It is certain to say that Joyland will be one of electronica’s more memorable outings in 2014, with Alfons’s unforgettable bass voice ringing in the ears of many new fans. This album simultaneously draws from a variety of EDM sounds and mixes them with sparse post-punk compositional ideas. Never too occupied instrumentally, Trust knows where to place his listeners’ focus at any given moment, and is smart at showcasing his assets, mainly his beautiful voice.
Jeffrey Holmes is a second-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at JH791223@wcupa.edu.