Don’t Judge This Album By Its Cover (Or Band Name)
You might think that the London-based quartet Trailer Trash Tracys have a rather silly band name. You’d be absolutely right. It’s not exactly a name that reaches out to you and entices you in. (I’m not the only one to reach this realization; other online reviews have, well, trashed it as well.) What’s more, with a moniker like that, you might be expecting something a little on the surf rock or thrashy side, or someone in the band to actually boast the name Tracy. Nobody does. On the former note, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as evidenced by the band’s debut LP Ester. The album evokes lavish soundscapes that could have been pulled right out of Twin Peaks, with a little dash of the trippiness of Portishead to boot. However, the band name isn’t the only thing off-putting about this group. There’s the album cover art, which features a rather garish image of a superimposed rope being wrapped around some poor lad’s head (at least, I think it’s a lad), evoking both a lynching and Photoshop run amok. What’s more, the opening track to this record, “Rolling – Kiss the Universe”, is almost two minutes of brazen noise and electronic noodling. It’s as though the band wants to do everything to keep the listener at arm’s length – thanks to the choice of the band name, the horrible cover art, and loopy introduction. For those who are brave enough to enter the world of Trailer Trash Tracys and stay in the room while the band works at clearing all of the pretenders out, there’s a lot to like about this shoegazy band.
Before we delve headlong into the world of Ester, it is worth mentioning that the album comes with a bit of a gimmick. The record was recorded using a “solfeggio scale”, which Western instruments aren’t tuned to. Now, I’m not exactly a student of music theory – I last played an instrument, the trombone, when I was in my high school concert band some 20 years ago – but essentially the scale, instead of having eight notes to an octave, has seven. It is used to teach sight-singing, as each note of the scale is tied to a syllable. If you’ve heard “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music, then you’re pretty much as familiar with the solfeggio scale as you need to be to confront Ester in all of its ethereal glory. (Also, it should be noted that the band tried their hand at Sufi poetry – though it’s hard to hear as Suzanne Aztoria’s vocals are wrapped up in a barely discernable gauze – and even tried, and failed, to microphone an orchestra of animals for one track, so there are actually all sorts of stuff on the record that reeks shamelessly of a publicity stunt.) Once you get past that very first song, however, Ester is one heck of a gloriously beautiful and haunting album.
That crystalline beauty is particularly evident on second track and highlight “You Wish You Were Red”, a delectable slice of dream pop filtered through the sensibilities of ‘50s R&B and pop idioms. It delightfully warbles and shimmers, and its sense of being out of time is something to swoon to and caress. Clearly, there’s something special – a magic well that Trailer Trash Tracys have dipped into – and it’s easy to be carried away by the lapping waves of melody to be found here. But Ester has more to offer than this one standout track. “Engelhardt’s Arizona” gurgles with a lightning-fast heavy metal guitar riff noodling against a stuttering drum machine and Aztoria’s soaring singing. It reaches into a kind of candy floss-coated brand of dream pop that is both inviting and invigorating. Debut single “Candy Girl” is vaguely reminiscent of “You Wish You Were Red”, and would be the sort of thing My Bloody Valentine might have come up with if they’d upped the bass and turned down the guitars and removed the tremolo. “Strangling Good Guys” is a swirling guitar-led concoction of sunny pop of the sort that they simply don’t make anymore. “Los Angered”, meanwhile, has a slinky debonair feel to it, sort of like an alternate universe James Bond theme song.
All in all, there’s not a lot of dross to be found on Ester, save for the atonal noise on the introductory track. However, you do get the sense that Trailer Trash Tracys are still working on their sound. By the time you get to the end of the album, you get songs like “Black Circle”, which uses reverb perhaps a little too judiciously, and doesn’t really have a memorable hook. It feels a bit like fluff or padding – it’s not bad, but nothing causes the listener to leap up in their seat. Album closer “Turkish Heights” is a dirge that could have also come out of the goth rock-era catalogue of fellow Britons the Cure. Yet there isn’t anything obscenely awful about Ester, save perhaps for “Rolling – Kiss the Universe”, which does very little but take up prime real estate at the front of the record.
Listening to Ester is a little exciting, even when it drags a bit towards the end, as you’re witnessing a very glacial yet exhilarating new sound that reaps all sort of benefits for listeners who can get past the band name, album art and first track. Obviously, Ester is not an album for everybody for all of the aforementioned reasons – namely, it does everything to be as unwelcoming and uninviting as possible – but for those who enjoy a shot of the past with the ramshackle noise of the future merged into one amorphous blob, Ester is quite the enjoyable little bauble. Too bad there’s a lot of stuff that the average person has to get past in order to make their way into the astounding music of Trailer Trash Tracys – that name, alas, being the prime candidate. Clearly, Trailer Trash Tracys is a book you shouldn’t judge by its so-called cover. There’s some great music to be heard here for those willing to get past all of the things that the band does to make things as uncomfortable as possible for John and Jane Doe. Ester is an album to get wrapped up in, and feel fairly unabashedly positive about, once the band has done its job of making you feel vaguely uneasy, which is ultimately the record’s – and band’s – only failing.