Review Summary: Trophy Scars find their niche without trial and error.Hospital Music for the Aesthetics of Language
is a surprisingly ambitious output from aspiring New Jersey-based post-hardcore band Trophy Scars, considering how young they were at the time it was recorded, (and the fact that it’s an EP). What’s most impressive is how much it accomplishes in its short run-time of just under 30 minutes, as gang vocals and emotive leads from Jerry Jones weave their way through beautiful guitar and piano melodies.
Trophy Scars have one key element that a lot their contemporaries lack: depth. Vocalist Jerry Jones performs at full capacity, his voice conveying more power than a raging storm over the solemn sea. But, he doesn’t deserve all credit on the vocal front; there is so much vocal layering throughout this album that it’s almost impossible to pick up on every one of them. Screams, shrieks, wails, spoken word, shouts, and croons are hidden among each song; more often than not a lot of those styles are employed within a moments notice. You’d think with all the layered vocals it would start to sound discordant at some point and make the songs bloated. It doesn’t. Take Sleep Little Nemo, for example: it’s almost impossible to pick out all the different intertwining voices within the remaining minute of the song, as they all clash with each other to create a harsh, but thoroughly enjoyable sound. Sleep Little Nemo might just be the most emotionally evocative post-hardcore song ever written. The opening cries of “Sleep little Nemo / you're covered in leaves / you're digging too deep / so sleep little Nemo / you won't have an alibi for what the cops will find”, sound so genuine and heartfelt that the singer almost sounds as if he’s about to break down and cry on the spot. It’s to this effect that the album differentiates itself from others -- all of the members seem entirely emotionally invested in every guitar riff, every piano melody, every lyric and in every gut-wrenching scream.
Where this album is deeply connected to emotion, it also lends itself to some fun. Who can resist smiling in satisfaction to the layered vocals and serene guitar melody permeating the middle section of The Hair-Trigger Flamenco? “So pour another glass of this whiskey / it’s making me dizzy / I like being dizzy/ I like being sleepy / oh I like feeling sleepy/ so come on, baby”, declares Jerry Jones, moments before the song accentuates to its most energetic point with screams of “dance, dance, dance like you’re dead/ and those words, words,words in your head /they stopped, stopped, stopped making sense”. I don’t often dance to songs, but I find my head swaying and bobbing to that particular section involuntarily. It’s full of energy and zest, and for a brief moment takes away from the dark cloud lingering over the overall atmosphere of Hospital Music...
with its loud beating drums and airy guitar melody that lends itself to the foreground to slick effect.
The only low point is the opener There Are Ghosts, which is...enigmatic, for lack of a better word -- it’s mysterious and perplexing, and is, unfortunately the one song on the entire album that could be perceived as “filler. It has an ominous atmosphere to it and establishes the album as a dark and dismal affair, but it almost seems unnecessary to a point as there’s no smooth transition between it and Designed Like Dice (Crickets in Tune). A piano motif from There Are Ghosts is lifted and put into the closer Lindsay and the Endless Wall of Alarm Clocks, which too feels at first like a filler. The piano piece is more uplifting and optimistic than in There Are Ghosts, which sounded a lot more sinister and discordant nearer the end. The piano fades away to reveal a rather cheesy spoken word excerpt between two lovers who are seemingly being separated against their will, but it’s vaguely unimportant, and seems placed there to slow the song down for the ensuing screams (this too works well as it catches the listener off-guard).
It’s the subtle things like the vocal accompaniments laden throughout that make the listener yearn to hear it again, such as the prominence given to particular points in The Hair-Trigger Flamenco, like the subdued wails strategically placed. The restraint is gratifying and is what keep the listener coming back. Nothing is done to excess and it makes sections like the short vocal croon at the end of Lindsay And... more important in a “less-is-more” kind of way; or the jazz-keyboard solo in ...And That’s Where They Found My Body and how just when the song seems like it’s ended, it goes on to conclude in a frenetic manner, or the barrage of “Babababababababababa” in Designed Like Dice. It’s a very rare thing to find a band that’s not only musically engaging, but lyrically competent...It’s even more rare to witness a band whose sound is fully realized on their second EP and with no LPs yet made. Trophy Scars’ Hospital Music
will appeal to a wide circle of people who appreciate post-hardcore music, if they embrace it, and give it time.