Headache Review – The Quietus
Released on both C60 and, somewhat sacrilegiously, compact disc, by the vastly multifaceted UK-based label, Blue Tapes & X-Ray Records, this album from Polish quartet Trupa Trupa (based out of Gdańsk on the country’s north coast) really doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Comprising as it does, it’s always clever, often beautiful, and at times very angry guitar music that defies definition.
Like Grizzly Bear’s triumphant masterpiece, 2006’s Yellow House, it’s a song-driven collection (in English) that ably coaxes boundless sonics from standard instrumentation, and seems to once more redraw the boundaries of humble and dying (in fact at this point it’s on life support) indie rock & roll. Razor-edged no wave rumblings, anguished Bad Seed shanties, sopping wet blue-eyed soul ballads – Trupa Trupa touch on it all. It’s their third full length offering, but this one sees the band successfully balance all their vast array of influences and abilities for the first time. The result is their first moment of true greatness.
Emotionally, Headache is as exhausting and multifaceted as the band’s American and English counterparts from the 90s were, particularly the Louisville, Kentucky sect of clever, angry, sad rock music (Slint, Shipping News, Rodan, etc). Leading a powerful charge of interweaving drums, bass and guitars, dual vocalists Grzegorz Kwiatkowski and Wojciech Juchniewicz, paint a huge number of self-portraits throughout the eleven stellar vocal performances. Murderous brooding on the cryptic ‘Halleyesonme’ (a bastardisation of “all eyes on me”), cool glam swagger on ‘Getting Older’, anguished emo screams of joyous pain on ‘The Sky Is Falling’. The complexities and dynamics from song to song shift restlessly back and forth, never settling on anything as simple as a Pixie-esque loud-quiet-loud cycle, opting rather for an almost stream of consciousness trek through a dense bag of deftly written hooks and melodies.
The countless flairs in the arrangements and gentle instrumental experiments all propel the album to greater heights. For example, the main riff at the core of lilting moonlit ballad, ‘Sacrifice’, is a blend of stuttering guitar via loop pedal, and atonal slide guitar fumbling. The sporadically featured organ and keys flesh out many key moments, rocket fuelling them from garage to symphonic in scope. Mournful keyboard arpeggios spray greying skies over the core lament of ‘Wasteland’, while wackily mechanic noises (stemming either from keys or guitar pedals) sprawl over the grand finale coda of ‘Picture Yourself’, which melts into a diminuendo at the tail end of the album.
Thematically, the music seems often to engage with the apocalypse (Literal? Cultural? Perhaps merely the end of a relationship?) – the question is whether the group believe it lies behind us or before us. The band name itself, Trupa Trupa, seems to play with the Polish words for both “troupe” and “circus”, as well as “corpse” (or perhaps more accurately, a “stiff”), implying their name translates to “Corpse Troupe”, or perhaps the even more suggestive, “Funeral Circus”. Lead lyricist and vocalist Grzegorz Kwiatkowski is also in fact a poet writing heartfelt wordplay in his native Polish, and has published four books to date including translations into both English and German. He tends to work in relatively short, free-form poems, focusing on flashes on natural beauty, human horrors, and visions of a dying world, making heavy use of near-musical repetition. Kwiatkowski’s words throughout Headache fit right in to his poetry’s convoluted world view, finding odd beauty in dank corners of the earth. ‘Snow’ opens with cries of “Let it all snow!”, “wasteland, wasteland, wasteland, all I see” goes the chorus of ‘Wasteland’, and ‘The Sky Is Falling’ clearly signals the cataclysmic death of something. The music is often energising, hopeful even, but the words are almost uniformly words of lamentation.
Highlights are most certainly in good supply on Headache, but the closing trilogy of the fiery nine-minute title track, simmering romance of ‘Unbelievable’, and squall of ‘Picture Yourself’ are perhaps the best, showing off the sheer power of what this band can do from within the traditional rock quartet formula. The title track in particular rides a repeating percussive riff almost for its entire duration, periodically exploding with screams and growls over pounding bass and drums. It’s not quite Dog Man Star, and it’s not quite Daydream Nation – there are too few anthemic singalongs, and not enough sprawling wig outs – but Trupa Trupa’s third album resultantly sits somewhere in between. The potential for the dizzying heights of either however, is most definitely there. This is incredible work.