Trophy Scars
Bad Luck


3.5
great

Review

by Nick Greer EMERITUS
March 17th, 2009 | 273 replies | 48,392 views


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Don't call this a comeback; Trophy Scars embrace their flaws and remember their past to create something entirely new but comfortably familiar.

When we last left Trophy Scars they were breathing their own fumes and loving it. Alphabets. Alphabets. was a concept album about Trophy Scars' members' youthful years that experimented with a wide if unwieldy range of different genres and influences. In many ways it was a rare glimpse at the obvious; to hear Jerry Jones sing, scream, and wail about lost love, the thrill of a good show, or copious bong rips while his supporting cast plays predictable but efficacious post-hardcore that works in indie, old school hardcore, and even rap, is to experience the story of any average kid's late adolescence. Trophy Scars' take on it was no more special or illuminating than one's own nostalgia. Their experimentation was copied and pasted like a 17-year old discovering Garage Band on his Mac and programming a hip hop beat under a punk chord progression. The album was embarrassingly self-indulgent and sophomoric, and the only thing that saved this train wreck of an album was Trophy Scars' ability to tap into the effective crescendos and mood swings of their previous albums, the highly enjoyable Goodnight Alchemy! and the brilliant Hospital Music (for the Aesthetics of Language). Alphabet. Alphabets. was an ill-executed attempt at creating a magnum opus and stands as the sole blemish on Trophy Scars admirable discography.

Trophy Scars' newest album, Bad Luck, gives the impression that Trophy Scars has finally grown up. Considering the ill fortune that befell the band in the past year or so and the line-up changes they've had to endure, this development isn't unexpected, but it is certainly satisfying. Bad Luck is an album that is interesting, enjoyable, and accomplished enough to reveal Alphabet. Alphabets. as the awkward puberty of Trophy Scars development as a band. Alphabet. Alphabets. is the musical embodiment of the pizza-faced nostalgia described on the album itself. Bad Luck, on the other hand, is Trophy Scars being self-assured and artistically refined. This maturity starts in the lyrics. Jerry is still obsessed with elusive females, nostalgia, and pop culture kitsch, but instead of formulating his narratives in open-ended rants about his own life, he creates a full-fledged concept about chasing a girl (Anna Lucia) in a fantastically noir fashion. His lyrical flourishes that veer towards melodrama or memories of adolescence (pretty much stuff that the knuckleheads over at Absolutepunk go gaga for) are reined in by his attention to tone over imagery or narrative. His lyrics are less adorned with flowery livejournal poeticisms and awkward, verbatim storytelling (well maybe a little bit). Instead, they occupy a comfortable medium between effusive and reserved. His affectations are not for shock-value but are built into the overall aesthetic of the lyrical content. That being said, I was happy to hear that this carefully honed lyrical approach does nothing to reduce Jerry's characteristic vocal style, which seems to have willfully expanded from the growling, wailing, and shouting of Darts to the Sea to engage a more diverse palette of singing techniques (just listen the primary vocals and overdubs of "Bad Winter").

The vocals and lyrics aren't just insulated instances of tonal sophistication or this smoky, noir aesthetic, but rather complement the songwriting and arrangements, which have combined the best orchestral deviations from Hospital Music (remember that killer Rhodes piano on "... And That's Where They Found My Body?") and the budding love for classic rock, indie, and barroom pop that created some of the worst moments on Alphabets. Alphabets, but that are deployed quite sensibly here. Bad Luck sounds like a Cursive album in how fluidly horns, strings, and piano are worked into indie / post-hardcore songs, but is tempered by Trophy Scars' much heavier work from previous albums and what the band members themselves have labeled as "bluesy" guitar work. A song like "Nola" has verses with clean-tone tapped guitars and pizzicato string accents with chanting gang vocals. The song moves through Mars Volta-like interludes to build up to crushing choruses that recall Trophy Scars at their best in 2004. It is a summation of their career's work as well as an extension into territory that had only previously been explored by bands that are considered titans of genre (Cursive and Mars Volta are pretty fat name drops). Other songs make similar large scale gestures at stylistic alloys. "El Cowboy Red" mixes guitar licks that sound like fado lines with a colloquial narrative that includes lines like "I said 'damn man, it's been way too long.'" "Years So Much" has a saxophone solo throughout its bridge that plays antiphonic melodies with a ripping solo guitar. Sometimes the injective devices can be as simple and lightly applied as the trebly reggae drum fill at 2:23 in "Botanicas" that enters once and never returns. Whether a pervasive instrumental theme or a passing curiosity, Trophy Scars' imaginative orchestrations enliven their genre splicing and elevate their experimentation to respectable, almost genius levels.

Unfortunately there are also some lamentable remnants from Trophy Scars' puberty that hold Bad Luck back from being a truly amazing album. Earlier when talking about Jerry's lyrics I parenthetically mentioned that there are some less than stellar moments. Jerry's lyrics can slip into lapses of judgment that leave embarrassing unpoetic hangnails that undo some of the lyrical achievements (try on Botanicas' "Big sunglasses / Vanilla milkshake / Cherry lipstick / The look that you gave"). He has trimmed off most of his myspace baggage and livejournal poetry but there is that remaining percentage of cringe-worthy lines that diminishes Bad Luck's potency. The biggest problem with this album is that while Trophy Scars made tremendous leaps and bounds in terms of arranging the instrumentation and layering every track with interesting textures and captivating melodic fragments, they rarely deviate from brooding harmonic minor chord progressions and swinging 6/8 rhythms. Additionally, the chromatic descent that follows the choruses on "Toronto" appears all over the album and is sort of a fallback for creating maudlin tension. These crimes of overuse jeopardize Trophy Scars' orchestral diversity and in turn Bad Luck as an album. Despite their best efforts to blow open the sonic palette through interesting instrumental aspersions and unique tonal aspirations, Trophy Scars still find ways to cave in and stunt the ingenuity of these devices. For all of the leaps and bounds they've grown, they sacrificed one component of songwriting for another. This balancing act is hardly zero-sum; Bad Luck is as enjoyable as it is respectable, but there are still a few unfortunate acne scars that prove that Trophy Scars have a way to go in meticulous songcrafting before they can match or possibly even eclipse the wild successes of their touchstone release, Hospital Music (for the Aesthetics of Language).



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Willie
Moderator
March 18th 2009



15778 Comments


Iluvatar just reccomended this to me yesterday. I haven't had a chance to hear it yet. Nice review.

Digging: Teramaze - Esoteric Symbolism

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
March 18th 2009



16072 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I agree with all your pros and think you are being really nitpicky about your cons generally; the occasional awkward lyric really makes the album a lot more genuine and thus work more for me.
I admit they use some of their "Tricks" a little too often but they generally vary the sound enough to warrant it. I have listened to this album in the past few days more than i have the rest of Trophy Scars discography for the past 4 years

Athom
Staff Reviewer
March 18th 2009



17127 Comments


i keep on forgetting how much you truly despise Alphabets. I agree that the overall sound is a bit repetitive but i dont think that it hurts the listening experience. good review.

Digging: Sad Lovers and Giants - Feeding the Flame

DFelon204409
Emeritus
March 18th 2009



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ya I was between 3.5 and 4 and decided to give it a 3.5 to counterbalance Iluvatar's potential review and existing staff pick.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
March 18th 2009



16072 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I do agree (I think) that Nola is a particularly outstanding song, along with Bad Dreams and Anna Lucia.

tombits
March 18th 2009



3463 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Hospital Music is the only material I have from Trophy Scars, and I really enjoy it. Which release is closest to the sound they presented on that record and will disappoint me the least?
I'm guessing Goodnight Alchemy?

Great review by the way.

This Message Edited On 03.18.09

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
March 18th 2009



16072 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Why not just listen to what they are putting out now so you aren't 3 years late? You won't be disappointed with this

Scenegirlsdontbang
March 18th 2009



106 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I've been digging this. Geneva rules

tombits
March 18th 2009



3463 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Why not just listen to what they are putting out now so you aren't 3 years late? You won't be disappointed with this

I may as well. I was going to work through their discography chronologically, but i'll just go with this.

gaslightanthem
March 18th 2009



5209 Comments


This rules, this is probably the best thing they've done since 'Hospital Music'. Excellent album.

Ya I was between 3.5 and 4 and decided to give it a 3.5 to counterbalance Iluvatar's potential review and existing staff pick.


I assume you're talking about the review with this but truthfully for your personal rating do you see this as a 3.5 or something closer to a 4? Just wondered, I know you have it as a 3.5 atm.

Fire Away
March 18th 2009



293 Comments


well i'm warming to this but the vocals tend to annoy me a lot

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
March 18th 2009



3752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Wicked album, I'm really glad this is good. Just loving the use of the slow passages and really sorta kitsch sound.

Digging: Labyrinth Ear - The Orchid Room

jrowa001
March 18th 2009



8749 Comments


i didnt like Alphabets Alphabets, but ill check this out

HighandDriving
March 18th 2009



3232 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm a huge fan of their early shit and even enjoy some snippets from Alphabets but this just sit well with me.

While having piano and light orchestral doses worked very well, like the forementioned "... And That's Where They Found My Body?", they rely on it too much here. And since they're no Hans von Bulow so it really is a hit or miss.

But then again I just want them to release a full length Hospital Music/Goodnight Alchemy part 2.This Message Edited On 03.18.09

Kiran
Emeritus
March 18th 2009



5993 Comments


This is good?! Holy shit, must get now

IsItLuck?
Emeritus
March 18th 2009



4925 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I was surprisingly satisfied with this album. I think the best part to their sound is how the vocalist specifically picks the perfect moment to scream and isn't like a haphazard screamer. Love the jazz/blues influences

natey
March 18th 2009



4170 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Damn those elusive females.

StrizzMatik
March 18th 2009



3158 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Listening now... pretty damn good so far, some slick guitar work. I'm really digging the blues influences.This Message Edited On 03.18.09

StrizzMatik
March 18th 2009



3158 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Just listened to the whole thing, it's pretty impressive. Reminds me of Brand New's The Devil And God in some ways, only far more intricate and bluesy. The blues leads on this album are siiiiiiiiiick and I wonder why other post-hardcore bands never thought of it before. Really really good, probably be in my top 10 of this year.

BTW their record release party is going down this Sunday in Manhattan @ The Underscore. $10, I'll probably go.This Message Edited On 03.18.09

JokesorInsults
March 18th 2009



244 Comments


goddamn this album would so fucking good if it weren't for that weird gravelly voice the singer decides to employ

it's good, but at times it's just not.



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