Jolly New Songs review – Pitchfork
On their nimble new LP, the Polish quartet Trupa Trupa bring some poetry and subtlety to psychedelic rock.
Though few of the genre’s songwriters would admit as much, lyrics tend to be an afterthought in psych-rock. They are more like a formality, setting a place for the sonic theatrics and flamboyant guitars that many bands of this sort take far more pleasure in. For the Polish psych quartet Trupa Trupa, however, lyrics are a delicacy. Frontman Grzegorz Kwiatkowski has several books of poetry to his name. And although he limits his words on Trupa Trupa’s nimble new LP Jolly New Songs, rationing them like shaved truffles, he brings a poet’s love of language to the ones he does deploy, lingering on them, repeating them, embellishing them, and savoring the space between them.
Of course, the band’s respect for language doesn’t preclude them from having a little fun at its expense. Trupa roughly translates to “corpse,” a word that presumably carries the same balance of morbidity and whimsy in Polish as it does in English, and their band name says everything you need to know about their gallows humor. Throughout Jolly New Songs, Kwiatkowski laughs in the face of defeat, mining joy from the macabre. “Think I am wounded and wounded now/Think I am wounded,” Kwiatkowski sputters like a shaken cola can on “Falling,” too delighted by the phonetic pleasures of the word “woooounded” to focus on the more pressing concern. “Lying with you/Without a move/The coffin so smooth,” he croons suavely on “Coffin,” a song that opens with leisurely before it pivots into a downpour of drone.
Trupa Trupa pack the record with those kinds of twist endings and fake-outs. “Jolly New Song,” which isn’t conventionally jolly but does initially carry a certain pep, eventually wilts into a rotted wreck of noise before it ends with the same abrupt cut to black as Dinosaur Jr.’s “Just Like Heaven” cover. Opener “Against Breaking Heart of a Breaking Heart Beauty” abandons its steady tempo to dizzy itself with a finale of seasick circus organs. In the hands of a heavier band, these disruption tactics might be played for maximum punishment, but here they feel more like mischief, an outlet for the group’s prankster energy.
Jolly New Songs blurs the lines between the wry and the genuinely unsettling so effectively that it’s rarely entirely clear when, or if, the band is joking. When Kwiatkowski’s voice takes on a bit of a punk sneer on “Never Forget,” a track with tantalizing shades of Unwound’s autumnal masterpiece Leaves Turn Inside You, he can sound a bit like Howard Devoto of Magazine, a flicked switchblade with an unclear target. “We never, we never forget humiliation,” Kwiatkowski sings, implicitly promising retribution. Even the songs that aren’t overtly nihilistic carry an ominous gloom, with bass lines that nip like a late-November frost.
The tradeoff for all that mood setting is that Jolly New Songs falls a little short in the fireworks department, especially compared to the work of showier psych bands like Dungen or Thee Oh Sees. Psych fans who seek out this music mostly for the knockout, “holy fuck!” moments aren’t going to find many here, but what they will find is a record that lingers longer than most, one that derives its power less by skirting conventions than by veiling its intentions.