With their ‘80s influences flown proudly, this Austin-based band may initially strike the casual listener as gloom and doom rehashery, but their talent for emotionally uplifting songwriting and engaging experimentalism coupled with moments of breathtaking beauty make them stand out from their contemporaries, says Daniel Jones.
I was 15 the first time I discovered 4AD. By that time, the UK label was predominately releasing what my brain was processing as “college rock”, and while bands like Lush and His Name Is Alive nabbed some of my attention, it was 4AD’s early releases that fascinated me. The reverb-drenched heartache of Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, the stalking and skeletal theatricality of Bauhaus, the post-punk funk of ColourBox and the outright weirdness of Rema-Rema… it was all so new to the mind of a ‘90s-era Midwesterner. It felt dangerous, a wall of emotional sound to combat the apathetic anger of grunge. It also inspired me to tease my hair into a Nick Cave-style rat’s nest for the first time, which in retrospect might not have been the best idea for a five-foot-nothing guy trying to deal with puberty, authority and increasingly changing social structures. Fuck the Man, I suppose.
Troller would fit perfectly into 4AD’s earlier, diverse roster. Their music packs the same levels of atmosphere and emotion, but while so many ‘dark’ bands seem content to focus on anger, pain, numbness or general depression, Troller present a sort of blackened optimism overlayed with a self-assurance that makes this debut shine even brighter through its layers of abyssal bass and refracting vocals. When their self-titled cassette was released in 2012, it somehow managed to pass me by. I’m thankful for that, however, because it means I can now listen to the re-released album on vinyl, just as I did years ago with those formative albums. Hearing Troller for the first time, I was instantly transported back to my teenage days of record store pleasures. Yet there’s an increasingly modern feel to Troller as well, as more and more bands take up the mantle of cold wave.
As the dirge-like groans of “Milk” lurch into view, Troller’s slow-burning nature is revealed. Easily the most ‘gloomy’ track on the album, “Milk” unfurls itself gradually with an extended intro, progressively thickening synth textures and a repeated chorus of “Push me, I can take it.” It paints a veneer of intense and antagonistic depression that’s swept aside the moment the gorgeous synths of “Tiger” leap into view. There are some songs that, once heard, embed themselves in your musical soul like balm, and this is one of those. The intense and soaring atmosphere captivates as vocals caress like a love letter—before they explode into the sky on aural pinions. While there are many instances of intimate delights throughout Troller—the aching strain of “Best”, the icy pop deliciousness of “Winter” and the subtle, swirling atmospheres and skittering hi-hats of “Thirst” and “Peace Dream”—it’s this beautiful beast that will have you pulling the needle back again and again. Interspersed between the songs are untitled, spacey compositions in the grand tradition of all those early post-punk groups who seemingly drop loose and experimental pieces into their one-off 7”s as a way to fill space. Fortunately the works here are anything but unfocused, presenting a nuanced flip-side to the vox-centric numbers and allowing them space to breath. The result is a transportational experience that’s almost cinematic in scope.
My only complaint (and it’s a minor one) is that the cover art, swiped from a ‘70s metal magazine, would almost certainly have caused me to pass this one over if I hadn’t heard the music before seeing it. That not being the case, I’ve kind of fallen in love with it. There’s an androgynous quality to it that, coupled with the phallic symbolism of the axe, defies immediate definition. That’s a musical stance which Troller position themselves closer to than you might think. With their ‘80s influences flown proudly, Troller may initially strike the casual listener as gloom and doom rehashery, but their talent for emotionally uplifting songwriting, engaging experimentalism and moments of breathtaking beauty make them stand out from their contemporaries. Just don’t allow it to inspire you to tease your hair. Trust me on this one. ˜
The vinyl edition of Troller is out now on Holodeck Records.