Canadian synth-pop band TRUST have been doing some phenomenal work in the studio in the past year. When they dropped their debut LP, TRST, back in 2012, the dark, pulsing melodies and cryptic vocals drew quick comparisons to their brooding, gothic counterparts on the scene like Crystal Castles. These comparisons were, by nature, pretty lazy. I mean, it goes without saying that all of these acts pull heavily from goth and acid house greats of the past like Depeche Mode and the KLF. But from the start, TRUST have pursued a much darker angle than the witchy rave-pop that reaches further across the board. Their vision is grimy, challenging, but ultimately one that resonates well with the dark corners of your taste. On LP #2, TRUST reach further in every direction and ultimately give us a much grander effort than their first record. Joyland, out last Tuesday on Arts & Crafts, goes out of its way to define TRUST individually in every possible way. Here, we find Robert Alfons (now working alone) darker than ever, brighter than ever, and more visceral than anyone could have anticipated listening to the likes of “Candy Walls” and “Bulbform”. This is TRUST 2.0, and this is a band that stands on its own two feet going forward.
“Rescue, Mister”, Joyland’s lead single, dropped back at the beginning of January, giving us our first taste of TRUST’s development in the last couple years. The track was dynamite - the slithering synth brilliance of TRST cranked to maximum danceability, along with a kickass lead rave synth that could get a party going a mile down the street. But Alfons pulled the rug out from under everyone when the album’s second offering dropped: “Capitol”. Wait for that atmospheric intro and blood-curdling scream to die down and you have a major key piano line. If you don’t understand the significance of this, then you didn’t spend quite enough time brooding on TRUST’s beginning to end dance-dirge of a first album. But this is something entirely different! Alfons belts his heart out over a soaring synth line and seriously puts tears in your eyes. It’s a heartfelt, heart-broken epic dance number for the ages. Over its five minutes, the energy only builds and builds until the melancholy power is almost too much. “Time after time, I’ll start to forget, as long as I know that’s as good as it gets”, Alfons screams. It’s really an incredibly gorgeous number amongst its pounding bass drums and infinite synthesizers. Following it is the album’s title track, which is even happier, almost going full “Video Killed The Radio Star” for three bright minutes before meeting melancholy longing again on “Are We Arc?”. Here, Alfons questions his place over a contemplative electro track that is always on the verge of breaking out into a banger. But he keeps it on the low before disappearing into the vampiric dark again on the next track.
The first half of Joyland is incredibly telling for TRUST. The opening: atmospheric, then gothic rave, then beautiful, then questioning, all before you flip the record (theoretically) and dance your ass off to side B. Side B is old TRUST perfected. “Ichabod” is a spacey, spooky cut along the Depeche Mode lines of “Dressed For Space”, keeping things from getting too murky before “Four Gut” goes for the throat. The latter finds Alfons’ snarling lower vocal range at its most darkly seductive. Alternating between playful master of evil and painted muse, “Four Gut” is a winner that will please anyone (like me) tantalized by Alfons’ overwhelming personality. After “Rescue, Mister” blows your mind again, Alfons shifts the sonic focus a bit forward, drawing on a mid 90s acid house beat that flat out brings the house down. The BPM goes higher than ever for “Peer Pressure”, before TRUST brings it home with “Barely”, a closer that rivals “Sulk” in terms of closer effect and personal takeaway.
While Robert Alfons may be the sole member of TRUST at this point, nothing has been lost in the translation to working alone. The gut-punch drones of the first record have been replaced with more ambitious, more emotionally captivating lines. Where the first album erred on the side of mystery, hidden behind the guise of dark rooms and blinding strobes, Joyland could see Robert Alfons play pretty sizable clubs - heaven knows he has the personality for it. Tightening the length by one minute and pushing forward at every possible opportunity, Joyland is clearer, sharper, and more addictive vision of TRUST. If this our second glance, I can’t wait to see what number 3 looks like. In the meantime...
Joyland is out now on Arts & Crafts. TRUST will tour in support of Joyland this spring. Catch them at Barboza on 4/28. Tickets are available here. If you like flashing strobes, pounding beats, and have a resounding affinity for the colors red and blue, it’s a must see.