Jolly New Songs review – The Quietus
Trupa Trupa, a rock band from Gdansk, are a strange bunch. And they’ve made a strange, brilliant record. The oddness they project isn’t anything obtuse or difficult or academic, or (you suspect) planned. In the main you can sing along to these “jolly” songs, as Jolly New Songs is a record packed with phrases and licks that become earworms, passages that create vivid and empathetic dream scenarios, and spruce blasts of noise that give a real sense of energy.
But there’s this sense of otherness about Trupa Trupa that seems to grow stronger the more I listen to them. They are hypnotic; despite themselves, it seems. Their record tugs at your elbow and whispers, “Put me on, again. You want to.” I’ve seen them live and got sucked into their diffident scene. Moreover, their guitarist plays what looks like a homemade Cyberman’s head on a stick, with strings. You can appreciate, therefore, that they are the sort of act you can become slowly fascinated by, without noticing any prior impetus to do so. In this, they remind me of the bit in Julian Cope’s autobiography Head On / Repossessed when Copey talks about his fixations during the making of his album, Fried. One was acting like a turtle (when getting in character for the album cover shoot), another was slavishly copying the mannerisms of his guitarist and producer, Steve Lovell. Jolly New Songs prompts you to act a bit like Copey did, the music acting as a bridge to somewhere else. To a place where you the listener can act out dreamy inconsequential nonsense in private.
The record’s title is another indication of their wry humour. None of these songs are jolly in any sense. Shamanic and otherworldly, yes. Powerful, most certainly. Clever, without a doubt. But there is very little to be actually jolly about on Jolly New Songs. There is a song about a coffin, and ‘Love Supreme’ sounds like a funeral march through a Belgian village on a wet November day. Still, the record treads quietly, impervious to all around, like a Komodo dragon taking the air on a volcanic spatter cone.
The 1960s tinge from their last album, Headache, is still there, magnified, taking in other appropriations of 60s and 70s sounds along the way. Trupa Trupa are a very astute band in this respect. Astute with their sound in the way Pixies were, keeping a gleaming songwriting muscle primed with just the right amount of melodic and harmonic oil, and nous in the application. ‘Mist’, for example, is a gloriously catchy take on early American Music club before it sidesteps any latent pomposity and swiftly ends on a Barrett-style lament. The deadpan (and impossibly named) opener ‘Against Breaking Heart of A Breaking Heart Beauty’ is another case in point. This grumbling, slow-moving lava flow is like a languorous mix of very early (post-Syd) Floyd, Cope, Earth and ‘Chasing a Bee’-era Mercury Rev. With a subterranean kick. Check out the gloriously dreamy coda on ‘Falling’, too, it’s straight out of Faust IV.
Trickster moments abound, then. The slumberous title track starts off as a faux singalong and ends up in a howling vortex before abruptly pulling the plug. Second to last (and standout) track ‘Only Good Weather’ ends up sounding like it’s in a blender, prey to the sort of wilful larking about you’d hear in Stereolab’s early singles. But most of all, difficult and wyrd and downbeat bits included, this is gloriously catchy rock music. Try getting the opening vocal line from the brilliant single, ‘To Me’ or the supine ‘Leave It All’ out of your head. Even drones like ‘Never Forget’ and the Syd-like ‘None Of Us’ stick around without asking, like some bloke at the end of the party, eating the dregs from the crisp bowl.
This is a powerful band possessing special properties, that’s for sure. On the evidence of this record they happily live between any time and place. Or, rather, they’ve carved out their own sort of time in their music and invited you in.