THE POST-HARDCORE BLUES
Bad Dreams is the 4th LP of American post-hardcore group Trophy Scars. On this release the perennial experimenters, DIY to the bone and never compromising on artistic risks, take their music beyond the confines of any genre into a territory that musically resembles the auteur status of an indie-director, whose only genre is whatever his damn imagination conjures. This album sounds nothing like any post-hardcore album, ever. It does away with traditionalist stylistics even more than Alphabets.Alphabet so that anyone who finally managed to wrap their head around that release are probably going to either unilaterally ‘get’ this or be offended it doesn’t sound anything like it. It’s like C W Stoneking mixed with The Gaslight Anthem mixed with Funeral for a Friend and sung by a sailer on furlough. If it’s traditional at all, its in the wide tradition of blue-collar Americana jazz/blues with lyrical tales of ordinary life and ordinary people who somehow harbour behind their ordinariness the incomparable artistic skills of a renaissance great.
Bad Luck holds a very unique place, not just in the canon of popular music where it exists as an anomaly of disparate times and genres meeting, but in the cultish devotion of fans who’ve opened themselves to its robust charms. This is probably the poster boy for albums that need repeated listens to be enjoyed but thankfully, those that don’t hear incredible melodies in the pastoral avant-garde will hopefully find enough in the genre-bending instrumentality to enjoy until the ear treads a track.
The first confrontation of the album: Initially we’re presented with Jerry Jones’ caustic, almost Tom Waites-like, singing which sounds as though he’s been soaking his vocal chords in cheap swill and marlboros since their last release. The effeteness that post-hardcore vocalists educe is not present at all here, with his gruff voice projecting more the image of jaded bluesman or down-at-heel troubadour. He alternatively croons, screams, howls and the band back him up with some masterful ‘whoa-oh’s and ‘oooh’s, a bird’s fountain rising out of overgrown grass. His mimeocraft of warring dynamics is sprawling, making for a vocalist with the presence of Leonard Cohen and the bombast of Arthur Brown.
Trophy Scars makes music that wouldn’t make sense played by anyone else. Like, anyone can listen to metal and make metal or pop and make pop, but only the really good can be better than the other 90% doing the same thing and get recognised. Then there’s the great, who do something only they could ever do and who make themselves unforgettable. This is the territory of the Trout Mask Replicas and Leaves Turn Inside Yous and Trophy Scars have indelibly etched themselves into this echelon. These songs are more than just melodic ideas and emotional themes, they are quilts of eclecticism braided from the meetings of mutually hostile terms that only Trophy Scars can reconcile. You can listen to this stuff 100 times and still not really understand how they’re doing it or how they even came to consider it.
Take for instance the opening track Bad Dreams: at 30 seconds in its a depressing theatre of loss; at one minute its a cathartic howl of grief; at 3 minutes a post-hardcore sing along; and at 4 mins you’ll cry when he says “Good morning/ you look so precious just dreaming of me”, then they’ll pick you up again and drop you into some hot Americana, throw in some violin and reverb on the voice. They never let you get bored or give you a break from the manic-depressive restlessness.
Expanding on the traditional armaments of hardcore, you’ll hear in the kaleidoscope of this album flourishes by instruments that shouldn’t be on a meat and bones rock album. It almost sounds like half a moody post-hardcore album was recorded over the unused master tracks of a jazz blues trio from some post-war period, and it just somehow worked, locked together far too neat to be disregarded. Its the incorporation of non-standard instrumentation like shakers, fiddles, upright bass, nylon strings and spanish scales that makes this album really stentorian. Its got nearly every element from American folk music involved, whether its a style of accenting a note, a structure, an emotional resonance an instrument or scale. It never feels overdone or self-aggrandizing though, but just there for the music. They also don’t fully eschew hardcore ideas though, there’s still the beautiful interlocking guitar melodies that only post-hardcore bands seem to be able to make.
It’s this cinematic warmth that dilates the album and is evident on the duo of El Cowboy Red and Anna Lucia or the Geneva, Toronto, Nola three part tale. El Cowboy is a confessional tale of love gone boring and the hopeless fall into temptation, while Anna Lucia brings in the betrayed lover of the previous track for a bit of coquetry and revenge of her own. Its engrossing to hear this saga play, and the band aren’t pretentious about lyrics or the listener paying attention to this supererogation they’ve offered you, it just happens over some music that is so powerful it makes paying attention to one element akin to only looking at the colour orange in a Van Gogh’s work. Similarly with the other three tracks mentioned, which compose one long tragedy about a hitman searching for his ex-girlfriend (who is also a hitman) across the world and a special key she is in possession of.
Bad Luck has a penchant for high drama and melodramatic emotions. Their tunes are populated by desperate character doing banal things with a burning limbic system. Scenes occurs in nondescript dive bars, in beds during early morning or on the road. Like other american folk romantics it belleaguries its subject matter close to the point of cliche, except the characters and storytelling feel so alive and organic, and if the music didn’t score the emotions in such a perfect way it could be a little too deliberately left-of-centre and anti-populist. Most tracks mix anger with forgiveness, depression with rejoicing. Every song is like its own mini album with some new artistic abreaction or some new commentary on what can be done with any of the genres they briefly touch upon. It’s the sound of a great jazz band or delta blues group that never got to press and album and who all died in a car crash but were revived and listened to Saetia and Pg. 99 and other post-hardcore weirdos til this most unclassifiable album came out.
Imagine a cubist painting that from a distance turns into a perfect circle. Imagine this album not being released because of the literal bad luck that assailed this band on finishing this album (they spent all their money booking a tour that got cancelled) and it was pulled out of perdition by the donations of fans. Damn they spent their body well.