Following on from his first two highly acclaimed albums, Robert Alfons steps from a period of seclusion and contemplation deep in the Ontario countryside and channels a newfound clarity and emotional honesty in the first part of Destroyer.
While it’s undeniable that certain circles associate TR/ST with sweaty, drug-fuelled, sexually promiscuous dancefloors, there is also an undeniable allure to the formula that has a universal translation regardless of the targeted demographic. For all his seemingly hedonistic sensibilities there seems to be something of substance and depth aching to break through that veneer of seediness.
The combination of Robert Alfons dank nasal murmuring and the uplifting trance-like rush of his dense, melodic and dark synth-pop production stands out amongst the glut of his coldwave contemporaries as singularly distinctive and instantly recognisable. Since its release in 2012, the original self-titled debut has since become a cult classic, with everything from the queer imagery of its front cover, to the sheer rapture of “Shoom” becoming ingrained into the consciousness of synth aficionados the world over. It set the benchmark very high and despite the departure of Maya Postepski after their debut, the feel-good electro-fuzz of Joyland made an admirable, if not better attempt at measuring up.
Stream: ‘The Destroyer – 1’ – TR/ST
TR/ST’s long-awaited new project The Destroyer is a collection of 16 songs that he co-produced with his former band member and split into two mini-albums, with part 2 due for release in November. According to Alfons, “To be given a 16-song album would be very hard to just take it all in, so the idea of splitting it up made more sense.”
From its progression to the title of the track itself, the opener “Colossal” is laced with typical TR/ST gravitas. A brief ambient build up, Alfons vocals creeping in like he has just emerged from a swamp after a long hibernation, followed by the inevitable flurry and flickering of textured synth-work like a waltz of neon fireflies.
The next track “Gone” is where you can really appreciate the newfound stirrings of emotion churning inside Alfons. In the song, which is a reaction to the sudden loss of love and perhaps libido, he laments “I’m motionless in the bedroom, I need it to come alive, barely love all this time”. He turns the typically emotive yet detached TR/ST aesthetic on its head throughout with more heart-on-sleeve pop numbers like “Control Me,” an untypically sweet and personal song about Alfons’ self-control and willpower finally dissolving as he allows another to take the reins.
In “Grouch,” he has replaced his deep singing voice with a clearer, higher pitched, more vulnerable vocal range. However, the honesty and clarity in his voice can make overwhelming and uneasy listening when you have become so used to his mysterious and murky stream-of-consciousness musings for so long.
Sometimes the record’s personal nature and new emotional directness lags behind the slick momentum and pizzazz of the typical TR/ST sound, like your older parents getting overly dramatic for no good reason when you just want to dance. Having said that, there is also a beauty to this new openness and emotional depth. While the record is full of surprises, there is plenty of familiar territory too, from the epic, euphoric dancefloor odyssey of “Bicep” which would be more than happy on the debut, to the bouncy upbeat “Unbleached” which would fit on the youthful zest of Joyland.
Despite the records considerable appeal, it does not possess the raw exuberant energy or identity of TR/ST’s previous albums. In Alfons words, his original work “poured out of him” in The Destroyer – 1 he had to pry open the gates and squeeze inside the recesses of his mind for inspiration and you can feel that all-too-human longing for substance in the album. People were expecting his next release to be the third in an epic trilogy, but while it has lingering and awesome traces of his past sound, the first part of The Destroyer is a different kind of beast altogether.
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📸 © Eliot Lee Hazel