Modern Dancing Was Released via FatCat Records on Nov 13th.
I can’t help but worry a little when I hear a band describe their second album as “more focused”, especially when TRAAMS’ 2013 debut Grin was such an enjoyable blast of krautrock-strewn post-punk. It either means that they’ve channeled their intense sound into an album with a beginning, middle, end and a theme throughout, or they’ve lost their edge and dabbled in arty-fartery in an attempt to sound ‘mature’.
After all, TRAAMS’ unique sound derives from a fairly simple formula; their songs are relatively poppy and radio friendly, but their delivery of them isn’t. Whether it’s Stuart Hopkins’ yelpy vocals, the screeches of feedback they leave in and even accentuate or the grungy lo-fi aura of it all, TRAAMS have something about them that will make many listeners with mainstream tastes switch off, and those who prefer things a little rougher around the edges switch on. This only continues on Modern Dancing, produced by MJ of Hookworms, who’s done a fine job of letting the band exhibit their volatility.
The video for album opener ‘Costner’ seems to celebrate TRAAMS’ aim to commit their live ferocity to recorded format. A bird’s-eye view of the band appears to show them performing alone, but an almost Harlem Shake-style transformation sees head-bopping fans mingle with the band mid-song, and even applaud and cheer as it finishes. On the album, it’s a storming first track and leads straight into the terrific ‘A∩B’ which, despite having a title sure to cause misery to any reviewer using an archaic word processing programme, continues a gutsy and gripping start to the record.
Likewise, ‘Succulent Thunder Anthem’ is a glorious bit of nonsense. In just under three minutes, we get a rousing shout-along chorus (“You’re not my friends, you’re not my friends, you’re all so strange, you’re all so strange!”) and a simmering preamble (“You know there’s ice on the road”) to the ear-splitting crescendo. The song doesn’t appear to be about anything, but who cares? You just want to blast it out at full volume wherever and whenever you are. An anthem indeed!
On first listen, I thought the album hit a bit of a lull in the middle, but ‘Silver Lining’ and ‘Modern Dancing’ are real growers that have a slowed down and more controlled feel of minimalism and repetition. The former could have been taken from Fugazi’s The Argument, with its edgy buildup leading to growly guitars and a wistful outro, while the drowsy yet driving title track sees Hopkins assert “I see you dancing, I know you can’t help it”. It’s not clear who he’s addressing, but perhaps he’s giving two fingers up to anyone who decides to shun the band as being an unceremonious din, but secretly enjoys the pulsing scuzzy melodies.
I still think ‘Neckbrace’ is the album’s weak track; it offers a catchy chorus but is just a little lacklustre. By the end of it, a return to balls-out punk is more than welcome, and ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme Gimme (Love)’ is as catchy and energetic as The Damned at their peak.
‘Two Sides’ is my favourite track on the album, with Hopkins’ ‘oh-hoes’ sandwiched between the gritty and low-pitched riffs, and a fantastic feedback-drizzled jam hitting us just before the two-minute mark. The last two tracks are all about his vocals too, as he slurs lazily on ‘Car Song’, sounding rather like an old drunkard sat at a bar after closing time, and unashamedly – perhaps even deliberately – struggles with the high notes on ‘Bite Mark’, which provides a chirpy end to a frantic and fun record.
Modern Dancing is a hard album to fault, and is really everything a second album should be, taking the band in a new direction while not losing the edge of the debut. The whole experience is like being served an appetising, hearty roast chicken, only to find it’s full of raw innards and giblets. Don’t send it back – dive in and get a good forkful of the gristle as well as the prime fillet. If it makes you sick, all the better!
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