B FLAT A review – Pitchfork
In his life and art, Grzegorz Kwiatkowski has devoted himself to anti-fascism, which, in his native Poland, has become something of a full-time job.
As a descendent of a concentration-camp survivor, he’s channeled themes of intergenerational trauma and the banality of evil into celebrated works of poetry that have led to guest-lecturer gigs at universities around the world. As an activist, he made headlines after he and a friend discovered 500,000 discarded shoes in the woods near the Stutthof camp-turned-museum site, where some 65,000 prisoners died during World War II. Despite the international media attention, the museum opted to let the mounds of footwear languish in the forest out of sight—which, for Kwiatkowski, signified yet another victory for a pervasive Make Poland Innocent Again campaign that seeks to downplay the country’s complicity in Nazi war crimes and use the government’s legislative might to erase it from collective memory.
But as a singer and guitarist for Gdansk quartet Trupa Trupa, the scholarly Kwiatkowski finds the visceral, violent emotional release that’s all but necessary when you spend so many hours of your day ruminating on past genocides. Despite Kwiatkowski’s outspoken nature, Trupa Trupa don’t make protest music so much as process music, indulging the ugliest aspects of post-punk and post-hardcore as a means to protect what’s good and beautiful in this world, while shrewdly using psychedelic whimsy as a Trojan Horse to confront historical horrors. On the group’s fifth album, B Flat A, that process has become all the more fraught and grueling, with the band swinging harder than ever to stave off the dual threats of pandemic-induced paranoia and Poland’s ongoing slide into authoritarianism, while also vividly conveying the psychological duress and physical exhaustion of a life locked in perpetual struggle.
Though Kwiatkowski and fellow guitarist Wojtek Juchniewicz sing in English, their words aren’t so easily decoded—they’re delivered more as taser shocks to complement their barbwired riffs, Wojciech Juchniewicz’s cattle-prodding basslines, and drummer Tomasz Pawluczuk’s rampaging rhythms. But the insurrectionary intent is deeply felt nonetheless. With its lockstep drum beat and echoing chants, the opening “Moving” plays like the soundtrack to a movie-montage training sequence of guerilla soldiers preparing for war. In other instances, the cryptic communiques judder with real-world resonance: The aptly named “Twitch” rides a Trail of Dead-style stampede while Juchniewicz shouts, “It’s just a chill/But I’ve got a pill/Go back to work,” effectively summing up the pandemic experience of every low-paid laborer forced to put their health on the line for the economy.
Despite their surface-level similarities, Trupa Trupa don’t slot so easily alongside the current crop of rant’n’roll post-punkers sing-speaking their way through our current dystopia. B Flat A betrays a greater attention to sound design and melodic definition that transcends the genre’s claustrophobic confines and gestures toward something more immersive and panoramic. “Kwietnik” (Polish for “flowerbed”) may begin with a standard Sonic Youthian surge, but the bottom soon falls out of the mix, leaving Juchniewicz’s muted verses to fend for themselves against a muffled throbbing beat, like someone trying to record a slowcore confessional while a techno party rages in the loft next door. With “All and All,” Trupa Trupa shoot Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” straight into the dark side of the saloon, yielding a delightfully dazed country lullaby that nonetheless simmers with vengeful fervor. But their most insidious act of subversion comes in the form of “Uniform,” a sweet psych-pop singalong laced with poison. The lyrics amount to a single absurd line repeated ad infinitum—“I’m gonna eat all my uniforms”—but, through Kwiatkowski’s innocent wide-eyed delivery, those words crystallize the blind, eager conformity that fascism encourages, like an eerily cheery Hitler Youth recruitment poster translated into musical form.
Trupa Trupa’s previous album, 2019’s Of the Sun, riffed on similar themes with a more monochromatic palette and lumbering momentum, but the lyrics on that record nonetheless exuded an uncanny optimism—the proverbial flowers poking out of sidewalk cracks. On B Flat A, such silver linings have withered into ash. By the time we reach the closing title track, Trupa Trupa are drowning in the pandemic blues, their pugilistic fury simmered down into a haunted jangle, their righteous rhetoric debased into a blur of indecipherable, overlapping spoken-word verses that sound like they’re emanating from a detuned radio. And yet over the course of its six-minute run, this threadbare track accrues a hypnotic allure, as its melancholy toughens into resilience. It’s a song that seems to suggest our mere survival is a victory in and of itself, for it means we’ve lived to fight another day.