Tricot are a pretty big deal. They hail from Kyoto and play a brand of emo-tinged math-rock that has brought them a significant national following and a solid international fanbase. Their core trio - Ikkyo (vocals/guitar), Motifour (guitar) and Hirohiro (bass) - are an incredibly tight band, to the degree that they’ve previously struggled to find a drummer sufficiently close to their creative plane to stick around as a permanent member. Factor in their DIY attitude to the production and release of their music, along with a stellar live reputation, and on top of their attractive but insular math-rock credentials, you have one of the coolest, most reliable indie bands of the 2010s.
T H E
marks a successful but somewhat ambivalent first milestone in Tricot’s studio career. One the one hand, it does everything a strong debut should: it maintains a relentless standard of consistency across a slightly above average (fifty-minute) runtime, showcasing the band’s pop sensibilities, technical chops and focused songwriting in a way that leaves the listener in absolutely no doubt of their mastery of their craft. The musicianship is the real highlight here, rhythmically adventurous and very precise but also so unindulgent and confident that the shifting time signatures and angular tones seem like a natural vehicle for what ultimately comes across as accessible indie tracks. It’s nice to see some loose post-rock sounds in the mix as well, which tracks like Art Sick and Tarattaratta integrate smoothly and to great effect.
I don’t want to dwell much more on praise; Tricot, especially this album, have had a lot of it for the right reasons, and if this style of music is up your street or you appreciate hip young bands with good technical chops, then consider T H E
absolutely recommended. However, I have several reservations about this album specifically that are worth exploring, since (tl;dr) I don’t believe that it represents the band at their peak as much as critical consensus seems to imply.
The tricky thing about T H E
is that none of its flaws are straightforward. It’s fundamentally an innovative, technical record that makes use of accessible song structures and performances, but it’s executed in a way that massively underplays the former while overstating the latter. This makes a certain amount of sense in theory; part of the band’s appeal lies in how their sound is drawn from a mesh of traditionally indulgent genres, yet comes across as fat-free and tasteful. However, while this works for bands with a sparser, more aloof sound (say, Soutaiseiriron), Tricot have too much energy and dynamism to justify downplaying their flashiest moments in their refusal to be bombastic. This is wise in many senses, but the lingering potential of these elements is too pervasive a presence for the album to shine to its full scope.
This is especially relevant to the production, which is as dry and unextravagant as can be. It’s certainly tasteful (just think of the woeful production excesses undertaken by maximalist bands like The Fall of Troy), but its focus on an unresonant, angular tone strips the melodies and chord progressions of the greater part of their flavour. This places undue focus on elements that would otherwise seem uncontroversial. For example a listener’s impression of Ikkyu’s vocal performance in other circumstances would be defined exclusively by her strong tone, which is easily a cut above average math-rock fare. As it is, her prominence above the other parts of the mix draws unnecessary attention to the narrowness of her range of vocal melodies. If you listen closely, there are a lot of melodic ideas here that would benefit from further resonance, but the mix underprivileges them and leaves the album with a sharp tone that emphasises rhythm and vocals - both individually strong components - but denies them the full support of their melodic foundation. It’s easy to see how these songs come across live; a little YouTube scouting was proof enough that the already solid Pool
, for instance, becomes an absolute monster on stage.
The other major factor here is the album’s grasp of space, which leaves a lot to be desired. T H E
operates on a fairly unwavering dynamic frequency - it’s dense and unrelenting, leaving the listener few opportunities to pause for breath and take in the album’s veiled complexity, making it a denser experience than I feel it needs to be. The album’s two major highlights are not coincidentally the two songs that best address this: Art Sick
is the most dynamically sophisticated track on show, constantly moving from one intensity to another, and it stands out decisively as a result. On the other hand, the spikey 99.974.c
is the album’s most forthrightly energetic number and brings a much appreciated sense of excitement and adrenaline to the table.
Unfortunately, many of the other tracks do little to distinguish themselves and thrive on their unwavering standard of tightness - a mixed blessing given how the album’s relentless focus and density inadvertently blurs the lines between consistency and homogeneity. This applies both to overall song structures and to individual rhythmic voicings, both of which seem to be geared towards sounding as slick and unextravagent as possible, at the cost of allowing individual notes or sections to land in a way that steals the focus rather than augmenting the flow of what’s already been laid out by the rest of the track. In my opinion, follow-up album A N D
balances this a lot more successfully - compare the first five seconds of Pool
to those of Iro Nonai Suisou
for a bite-size case study; both go for upbeat intensity and energy, but whereas Pool
is initially relentless, Iro
momentarily pauses for breath and comes across as far more infectious as a result. In any case, T H E
’s limited dynamic range and unwavering track flow does not disadvantage individual songs notably, but it doesn’t compound to turn the fifty-minute runtime into an unfortunate inconvenience.
It’s important to note that this is the kind of affectionate critique that seeks to better inform an understanding of the album rather than to undermine its many strengths; these strengths are closely intwined with its weaknesses and it’s difficult to notice one without the other. T H E
is a very worthwhile debut that showcases a great style from a band that have continued to make good on a vast store of potential. It might focus so much on stylistic refinement that it misses the mark when it comes to dynamic songwriting and track sequencing, but that’s the luxury of a debut and will likely offer little deterrence to anyone primarily here for math-rock.