TR/ST - TR/ST (2012) Review

Patient zero of a darkwave renaissance


Electronic

2012

It's been a tough few years for darkwave. Like the Japanese economy, it peaked in the '80s with Lycia, Clan of Xymox and Ministry building their own little asset bubble of dark synthesizer driven records that would serve as the less cool cousins of releases by Sisters of Mercy and Siouxie.

But by the '90s, the genre had splintered. Ministry, tiring of "dark Depeche Mode" comparisons, became a full-on industrial metal band. "Goth" itself entered a nadir when it became the primary adjective for the pseudo-satanic vaudevillian gong show that was Marilyn Manson's public persona. It wouldn't be until the 2000s that the genre saw a bit of a revival through the more acceptable conduits of post-punk (She Wants Revenge) and electroclash (Crystal Castles, Mount Sims).

It is through that circuitous route that we arrive at TR/ST, a record so mind-bendingly creative, so endlessly unique that it may have single-handedly redefined what this genre should sound like in the 21st century.

It takes the opener "Shoom" all of five minutes to erase a past decade of superficially overwrought goth-pop passing itself off as darkwave. With gurgling synths exhumed from the darkest corners of Pysche's early work, the song envelops you in a bear hug of complete darkness, its claustrophobia expanding until it explodes into a mid-song crescendo of pulsing, club-ready beats.

Robert Alfons and Maya Postepski of TR/ST form a sort of Suicide-like duo, with Postepski handling the majority of the keyboard duties a la Martin Rev. Alfons is on vocals, and like Alan Vega, his voice is an inextricable part of the music. His baritone is somewhere between Lee Hazelwood's and Mark E Smith's. Being able to switch from a croaky rasp to a high falsetto at the drop of a hat (as on the euphoric "Chrissy E") keeps you guessing as to where the songs are going to go.

Because despite the minor-key gloom of single "Candy Walls" or the morose ruminations of "Heaven", TR/ST is danceable, often infectiously so. With its intro of of hi-sustain synth notes, "Sulk" ascends from the primordial ooze of '80s synthpop to metamorphose into a decadent, expansive dance track Giorgio Moroder would have blessed. "Gloryhole" too drops the mask of coldwave-pockmarked inscrutability to indulge in italo disco-flavoured mope-pop.

Alfons sounds like a real-life version of the dead-inside protagonist from Soft Cell's bedsitter -- "Dancing / Laughing / Drinking / Loving / And now I'm all alone in bedsit land my only home". Listening to TR/ST feels like reliving a sordid night out in the cold hard light of day.

"Darkwave" feels too limiting a descriptor for TR/ST. In a genre where too many records feel like the band slapped together EBM beats, sang like Peter Murphy and called it a day, TR/ST feels fresh, urgent, now. There isn't a wasted moment on it, and the goth-dance aesthetics never feel schlocky like a Lords of Acid record. At times it's stark and minimal, but never oppressively so. Its' 80s influences feel like a renaissance rather than a retread. It's brooding, dark sets a high water mark for the genre.


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