Trust - Joyland
Released March 4, 2014
By Brendan Tuytel
Follow ups are fickle. The saying “sophomore slump” exists for a reason and the pressure of releasing something with new, greater expectations can be daunting. Trust’s debut, TRST, still stands out as one of the most exceptional electronic releases of recent memory; the odds of topping such excellence are heavily against the Canadian synth-pop ex-duo given the departure of Maya Postepski of Austra. Like any big city, it was seedy, it was sexy, it was beautiful, and it was hideous. Each note and lyric dripped with lust, standing out like neon signs atop the mess of sexual tension of the human population. The uniqueness of the album was damning. How could Robert Alfons grow and develop without sacrificing what was their identity? Halfway through Joyland, the highly anticipated follow up, I found myself facing a different question: Was it different enough?
As soon as Slightly Floating starts, a similar atmosphere is established. The next few tracks of Joyland feel like a painting of a painting, an imitation of a perceived self. Geryon, the second track, didn’t seem to be worthy of the build-up Slightly Floating offers and manages to jump back and forth from being gripping to average. Robert Alfons' vocals were a staple of Trust’s work and while its oddity was embraced before, it felt as if it was being hidden. That unique atmosphere that I fell for was so gorgeous because it embraced every blemish; previously, their songs felt like flirtations with perfection before proceeding to give it the middle finger and revel in its faults and those faults grabbed your attention.
Thankfully, Capitol fulfilled my wishes as it touches on every stand out part of TRST but isn’t content in just compiling them together. What comes out is one of the best songs on the album, one that shows off the better production available given Trust’s new stature and applies it to their song writing with ample twists. Purposefully and playfully gratuitous, the song sets expectations for the rest of the album while simultaneously breaking them. Joyland and Are We Arc? fall short given the accomplishment of Capitol. Are We Arc? in particular, takes too long to make a point. Its mellow tone defines it and by the time Alfons finally challenges the norm he set, I had gotten bored. Even worse, Four Gut feels like a B-side from TRST and seems content to just replicate past successes. Certain synth parts don’t just feel derivative of their past work, but like it was taken directly from it.
Such is the bane of Joyland. With debuts, so much goes into developing ideas and typically, these ideas have been around for a long time. TRST was a product of drive and creative stewing between two complimentary musicians. The duty of managing to top it was now put solely on Alfons and he was given less time to figure everything out. Often, songs seem like they stemmed from the same original thought so there’s an unpleasant sense of familiarity resonating at various points and it’s tough to shake that feeling that this isn’t really an album, just a collection of tracks trying to capture that initial flame. The double edged sword of anticipation brings what is otherwise a fairly good album down and it’s much less memorable because of it.
So while I can’t say that Joyland is necessarily bad, I’d rather recommend just listening to TRST and taking in a musical interpretation of a night out with drugs, lust, bathroom stall romances, and regret. I do have to credit Alfons for continuing with Trust and trying to keep the identity he established with Postepski. However, what results is an album that is ambitious but only delivers on part of its potential. There are fantastic tracks to be found, but a lack of cohesion and consistency hinders Joyland in establishing itself as a good album. Like a failed relationship, one can either keep trying to figure out where Joyland went wrong, or they can just be optimistic that what comes next will be better.