If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it, did it really fall? Recently, PopMatters writer Alan Ranta made a compelling case for why Pepe Deluxé’s Spare Time Machine should be considered some of the best music of the modern era, even though nobody was there to hear it. For my money, Sweet Trip’s sophomore effort Velocity : Design : Comfort was an undiscovered classic, one of the most natural fusions of dream-pop sensuality and sugar-rush electronics ever put to tape. Yet I became a little disconcerted after handing the record to everyone I thought would listen and finding their reactions to be decidedly mixed. For every two people who gave me a big hug and wondered how they ever lived without it, one said “no thanks” and tossed it, repelled by the electronic overload, the seven-plus-minute runtimes, and/or the intentional displays of recording damage meant to convey a certain kind of emotional profundity.
At surface level, You Will Never Know Why presents itself as the Sweet Trip album that’s finally marketable to the masses. Over the six years the San Francisco-based group took to unveil it, front man Roby Burgos steadily dropped hints about what we were in for, releasing straightforward guitar-pop numbers “Darkness” and “Your World Is Eternally Complete” on Darla compilations and a couple more tracks as demos on its Web site. The finished product confirms early speculation: Sweet Trip is now a rock band, with drummer Rob Uytingco added permanently to the lineup to cement the band’s new aesthetic. Synths and electronic programming take a backseat to airy guitars, slippery bass, and reliable drumming, mirroring somewhat the intersection of indie pop and space-age bachelor pad music of the mid-1990s. Hardly a revelation, You Will Never Know Why stands tall as Sweet Trip’s second-best record. The traditional rock arrangements draw attention to the band’s easy way with beautiful, resonant pop hooks, to say nothing of their modesty, which seeps into their most agreeable songs and turns them almost gracious.
Where the record gets tricky is its bruising lyrical content, and although the clash between light music and dark lyricism has become largely passé, Sweet Trip’s take on it is still surprising. The title, You Will Never Know Why, tells all: vocalists Burgos and Valerie R. Cooper aren’t concerned with our dearth of understanding, but yours. Words of vague condemnation mingle with blunt-force lines normally screamed by grindcore bands: “Pretty soon you’re dead,” Cooper and Burgos chirp in a way that leads to believe they should be saying, “Pretty soon, we’ll be the best of friends.” This dynamic is edgy enough and it works, but other aspects of the album don’t. There are times when the sound could be richer, and the four-minute pop model grows samey as the track numbers reach double digits, although it’s the pair of interludes in the midsection that probably should have been cut. Sweet Trip is better than this—You Will Never Know Why makes pop sound like itself, while V : D : C made pop sound greater than itself—but the band has written a fine, accessible record that could snag them the proper audience at long last.