Trust‘s sophomore album Joyland finds Canadian artist Robert Alfons branching out into a broader palette of sounds, abandoning the melancholic introspection of his debut TRST in favor of brighter tones drenched in acid and rave. To discuss the album, Daniel Jones got in touch with a man who could be peer to Alfons: post-physical club poet Travis Egedy, aka Pictureplane.
Daniel Jones: First off I have to say, Joyland hasn’t quite grabbed me in the same way as Trust’s debut. Every song on TRST could be a single; they’re all very immediate. This one, despite the lighter aspects of it, is more introspective, less ear-grabbing. But maybe that’s a good thing in terms of authorship.
Travis Egedy: I actually immediately liked it. Trust’s work has elements of darkness, and I could see how some people might consider it goth, but I think he’s really good at creating pop songs.
DJ: There’s certainly more diversity in sound this time around. He’s experimenting with a broader palette of sounds and emotion, whereas with TRST he was just going for one set mood. What I do think works well is how he uses his high/low voice in a wider sense.
TE: I think a lot of people listening to it will think it’s a girl singing, which I think is really cool. All great art is equal parts masculine and feminine.
DJ: There’s always been this element of androgyny to his work that really throws people the first time they hear it. That’s one of the reasons it’s resonated so strongly in the goth scene, I think. Before it became all deep and dour Sisters of Mercy-style stuff, there was a lot of androgyny and gender-bending from groups like The Virgin Prunes. To my ears, there’s that element to his older material whereas Joyland feels fresher, but yes… also less less hook-y.
TE: I think it’s lazy for people to call it goth music just because it’s synthetic and emotional.
DJ: It’s evocative of gothic aspects but certainly not striving toward that. I think you can only be goth on purpose. It’s like calling The Cure goth for wearing eyeliner, when they were clearly a pop band with a lot of pouting and some sick-ass guitar notes. When I first heard Joyland, what it reminded me of more than anything was a video game soundtrack.
TE: It does have a ‘race track’ feel to it; and it does sound optimistic, which is a good thing. Art needs to be shining light on the world, not wallowing in its darkness. What I love is that the songs are really busy. It’s not a minimal record at all, there are a lot of melodies going on at the same time that bleed into each other.
DJ: The ‘sensitive rave’ aspects of this album also reminded me a lot of your work, particularly Thee Physical. There’s a very hypnotic aspect to it, which I think parallels his performances: very involved, in the moment.
TE: I’ve never met Trust before, so I’m not sure what his background is or if he ever was a raver. There’s definitely similarities, though.
DJ: You can tell that he’s spent a lot of time listening to acid and techno. The influences of that are all over this, in a very cold way, but now reaching toward the sun instead of away from it. Especially “Lost Souls/Eelings“, which is very upbeat and really uses that high-pitched voice to extreme effect rather than as an accent for the chorus.
TE: I think techno is naturally a really mechanical music. This is more like rave or trance, which tend to be more emotional. “Capitol” especially is just a beautiful song. Icy, but pulling at the heart. I love the piano in it; I wish there was more piano on the album. I definitely think this could be classified as pop music, but for thinking people.
DJ: We’re witnessing the evolution of ITM—Intelligent Trance Music.
TE: That’s amazing! What’s interesting, though, is that I can’t even understand any of the lyrics.
DJ: I think Alfons once said that it’s better not to know actual lyrics, because anything you can imagine would be better than what is actually being sung and knowing ruins the magic and mystery. I’ve danced to “Chrissy E” numerous times, and I always sing what I think is the chorus along with him. If I found out it was something different than what I’d been singing, it would change things.
TE: I remember when I first discovered Animal Collective around 2003 or so. That idea that vocals don’t really have to be lyrics—that they could just be another instrument—really changed my life. It’s really about the vocal melody itself rather than the words.
DJ: Especially as he’s aiming far more for the dancefloor. Do you find yourself attracted more toward dance music if it’s less lyrical?
TE: Sure. In dance music, lyrics don’t matter at all. Most lyrics in dance music are very mindless or very simple. Dance music is about letting go; words can make you think too much, and thinking and dancing don’t mix very well. It’s funny that I say that, because all my lyrics are very conceptual, but I’m sort of making dance music at the same time. It’s something I struggle with actually—trying to write meaningful lyrics but worrying that people don’t care at all about that. I don’t even sing that clearly, really. It’s a conflict I deal with, but words are really important to me. My songs are poems.
DJ: I think what you said about mindless dance lyrics is true, but that’s what I like about your work and Trust’s as well—even if we both agree the latter is often semi-indecipherable. There’s a balance, of course, but I think both of you toe that line well. I can dance to anything off Thee Physical perfectly well, but my mind is moving as my body does. I think there should be more poetry in dance music; maybe you don’t need to focus on it so much on the dancefloor, but it makes it more tangible for non-club listening.
TE: I agree, and in my opinion I’m not really making club music. That’s for people like Flosstradamus or Diplo or something. I don’t feel like I have very much in common with that stuff, even though I like it. I still feel a real connection to hip-hop and rap, which is of course lyrical. My new album is more heavy, and a lot of the songs are slower. Some are sort of industrial with a hip-hop tempo.
DJ: The slower, more intimate moments are one of the elements that I did like about Joyland “Are We Arc” and the opening track “Slightly Floating“. The fragility of his falsetto combined with his deeper vocals really set these moments off. Intimacy is another thing you don’t really see a lot of in dance music; I’ve always wondered why that is. What’s more intimate than reaching down inside a person to bring them to joyous movement, where time and other people cease to exists and reality becomes the dancefloor and the beat?
TE: I think intimacy in music is tied to voice. Not of lot of people sing and make dance music at the same time. Singing makes you vulnerable.
DJ: A lot of the current trends in electronic dance music are very rough, hard aesthetics—’masculine’, if that doesn’t sound too gendered for the times, including from many female producers as well. Which is also why, even though there’s a lot of modern production in Joyland and TRST, they often get compared to the New Wave dance music of the eighties a lot. I think people aren’t as sure how to deal with that kind of vulnerability today.
TE: Gender bending will always confuse the mainstream—or at least be more difficult for people to understand. Gender binaries are still really deeply imbedded in our culture, and especially in America.
DJ: It’s kind of different here; people are a lot more open to blurring genders and genres here, it seems. Then again, I’m speaking for Berlin, where I live; it’s a bit like going to NYC or LA and saying, “WHOA, America is so progressive.”
TE: If you look at hip-hop culture, which is the dominant pop culture in America right now, it’s hyper-masculine. Being feminine as a male is looked down upon.
DJ: It’s definitely easy to look at artists like Mykki Blanco or Trust and say that things are changing; they definitely are, but that’s from our perspectives. In actuality it’s all still totally peripheral to the mainstream, if not invisible. I wonder if we’ll ever see real change in that regard in our lifetimes.
TE: Things that would have been seen as insane or culturally taboo are totally normal now, and that will keep happening. It’s crazy reading Genesis P-Orridge talk about how just in the late eighties in England, it was illegal to get pierced or tattooed. You could go to jail! People with tattoos were a total fringe minority, and now it’s commonplace. There’s a famous case about a piercer getting arrested and doing twelve years in jail for piercing men’s penises—this is recent history. But I am a believer in the evolution of humanity. A slow but steady awakening is happening all around us. ~