Review Summary: A legitimate contender for debut album of 2009, ‘Conditions’ displays The Temper Trap’s ability to combine their influences into an original sound that bridges the gap between credible indie & mainstream hooks.
With indie-rock booming in worldwide popularity and recognition over the past decade or so, it would be fair to state that Australia has been a little slow to jump on the bandwagon. While The Saints caused a stir in the 1970s, and the likes of The Go-Betweens and the (Nick Cave fronted) Birthday Party deservedly won loyal fans in the 1980s, artists such as Ben Lee, The Drones, Augie March and Eskimo Joe have not quite capitalized on the current ease of accessibility of worldwide music. Enter Australia’s next genuine contender: The Temper Trap.
With their 2006 debut EP, the Melbourne quartet immediately caught the attention of the Australian public and record labels. However, striking while the iron was hot did not seem high on the band’s agenda, as they floated away from the limelight and memory. That is, until September of 2008 when single ‘Sweet Disposition’ emerged to wow listeners with its sweet melodies, soaring vocals & atmospherically layered guitars that made it sound like a hybrid of U2 and TV on the Radio. As ‘Sweet Disposition’ gradually gained a larger following via greater airplay, the hype for an upcoming debut full-length release grew with each passing month. Nine months after the release of that lead single, ‘Conditions’ is finally unleashed upon us.
Thankfully, ‘Conditions’ does not disappoint. Right from the get-go with ‘Love Lost’, it demands the listener’s attention and displays its sonic intentions and scope. Beginning sparsely with an organ and hand-claps, the opener later showcases punchy drums and stadium-sized guitars that recall Editors. The latter trait and comparison should not surprise since producer Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, Adele) worked on the debut album of both bands.
One thing that does not sound anything like Editors (or many other bands) is what makes The Temper Trap stand out from the crowd; Dougy Mandagi’s amazingly distinctive vocals. Born & raised in Indonesia, Mandagi has a strange falsetto-like yelp that can be easy to dislike on first listen. Yet, dig a little deeper and you will not only find genuine melody, but also an emotional characteristic that adds significant depth to most tracks. Comparing his voice to one particular singer is tough, but if one can recall Fine Young Cannibals’ Roland Gift, then you would be on the right track.
The band would themselves admit that they have borrowed a little from their heroes in crafting their own sound. Apart from the already mentioned U2, and Editors, influences such as Radiohead, Bloc Party and Coldplay will also be heard. However, indie fans should be excited over album highlight ‘Down River’, which gloriously combines Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire with a fluidity that belies their experience. This gem closes with a combination of horns, a rousing orchestral arrangement and finally a joyous sing-along. Another highlight is the Muse-like six minute ballad ‘Soldier On’, which unexpectedly breaks out into a raucous jam for its final third.
What could be the deciding factor for many regarding The Temper Trap is their poppy and anthemic leanings. There is no doubt that this band is here to leave their mark and they are going to do so on as many people as possible. For accessibility reasons, this is a positive. To the diehard indie fan however, it could be a shortcoming. Take, for example, the “wooh woohs” and straight-forward guitar solo on ‘Fader’, as well as the synth infusions and repetitiveness of catchy 2nd single ‘Science Of Fear’. In truth though, the genuine weaknesses are the ineffective ‘Fools’, overblown ‘Resurrection’ and short-changing instrumental closer ‘Drum Song’, which means ‘Conditions’ is indeed front loaded.
One should never expect a debut album to be perfect and ‘Conditions’ bears the results of a relatively young band still finding their feet. Yet, it is this same fact which also leads to some of the album’s highlights. The Temper Trap’s ability to combine their influences into an original sound - that bridges the gap between credible indie and mainstream hooks so expertly - displays their future potential at the very least. Impeccably produced, ‘Conditions’ is a legitimate contender for debut album of 2009.
Recommended Tracks: Down River, Sweet Disposition, Love Lost & Soldier On.