Review Summary: Get mad.
Given the context of the current year, multiple records are inevitably being produced and/or appreciated through the lens of the emotional extremes occurring across the globe. Be it for the unyielding approach of a global pandemic, dissatisfaction with political action or inaction, not having reliable employment, or whatever other reason supplied by the pandemonium of 2020, artists are responding in kind. It’s no different from previously shocking events; as those that attempt to understand or explain humanity and human experience, artists tend to encapsulate the sensations of the period they operated in. During and after World War II is a particularly turbid span to view into. Not only was the world forced to reconcile with massive destruction unforeseen, but also the accompanying social ramifications and ideological shifts. Audiences could be subjected to the quiet, pensive, simplistic output of Mark Rothko—canvases devoted to just a shade and little design—and the sporadic, unpredictable strokes of Pollock, all in the same era. Considering the scope of 2020, the ground is undeniably fertile for imaginative pieces to illustrate exactly what it means and what it feels like to be in such a tumultuous stretch. Perhaps this is somewhat of an unfair projection that falls prey to the aforementioned observation—all new creative efforts are automatically lumped into the 2020 experience—but something as visceral as New Distances
feels emblematic of its release date. With their debut barely a year in the past, Pittsburgh outfit TRVSS are back in force with a bite to their sound that completely outclasses their initial product. An emphasis on dissonance creates an atmosphere dominated by a thunderous bass and an impenetrable wall of static. Raw vocals fighting for their spot amongst the cacophony cement the fact that, while still young, TRVSS are evolving fast. And they’re pissed
This level of aggression was certainly discovered on Absence
, yet it never quite reached the novel heights presented here. The former effort placed a greater emphasis on punk with a more rollicking, carefree approach to songwriting; melodic riffs bounced along as catchy vocal hooks were laid on top, the production supplying a suitable amount of grit to provide a crunch to the sound. At a frequent rate, the band would coalesce into a threatening sonic assault—guitars, percussion, bass, and vocals erupting in such bombast it nearly leapt out of the speakers—in order to inject a heaviness factor to their tune. What becomes immediately evident upon spinning New Distances
is that TRVSS have focused intensely on those instances of uncompromising noise. The objective of the release is made clear: Crank the volume up, distort the production quality, and let loose. Whereas a slew of the numbers off of the debut disc sported that delightful punk aesthetic, the entries lining up the similarly brief duration of this sophomore creation are closer to post-hardcore—a weapon already in the arsenal of the Pennsylvania gents, as evidenced by tracks such as “The North.” Rather than having a relatively high level of clarity, the exhibition of TRVSS’s darker direction has found a home in abrasive instrumentation and howling harsh vocals. This is perfectly demonstrated by the progression of “Hiss,” where a twangy post-hardcore riff merges with an authoritative bass line. Sinister clean vocals maneuver through the verses before transforming into incomprehensible shouting in the chorus, the intensity of the song surging to match the outburst. As the song lurches towards its conclusion, the group engages in a sudden breakdown, guitars turning into chainsaws being swung down with a menacing tonality. All of this dissolves into a dreary rendition of the iconic Beatles refrain to “Here Comes the Sun” as the bass trudges along, dragging the listener behind them. It’s a suitably livid, despondent landscape fitting for such a destructive approach.
If one characteristic of TRVSS required special attention, it would presumably be the bass contribution. Rather than playing a completely support role, the distinctive string instrument is often at the front lines of a given song, supplying both tantalizing grooves and hefty blows to buttress any heavy moment crafted. Featured tracks such as “Scale Model Citizen in a Scale Model Town” and “Stigma” place the bass firmly at the head of the assault, the powerful growl acting as the impetus of the arrangement. After an ominous riff decomposes in “Scale Model…”, the bass takes control, increasing the pace of the track and guiding the twisting riffs that follow it, cementing the addicting nature of the number. A similar tactic is employed in “stigma” wherein the bass dominates the verses in its reverberating glory. It’s impressive how much care for the typically abased instrument is shown throughout the songwriting endeavors of the Pittsburgh crew. A larger trend can be seen; witnessed prior in “Hiss,” it’s critical to observe that TRVSS getting angrier and louder has resulted not just from going all out, thrashing about in unbridled emotion, but also from an augmentation of their compositional abilities—the bass being only one of those variables. A great percentage why a formation like “Scale Model…” can be so memorable is because of how it transforms over time; the gradual introduction morphs into a punk-esque romp before imploding in on itself in a massive breakdown—a fresh aspect the band has mastered already. This commitment to variation is abound in “The Ventriloquist Has the Last Laugh.” Here again is the despairing atmosphere revisited amidst the rampaging wrath prevailing in these passages. Melodic chords, turned filthy by the discordant production, wail between verses as the singing is reduced to monotone, detached mumbling, the bass adding to the gloomy shift in mood. The chorus promptly erases this restrained ambiance, vocals returning to their static-laden glory with cymbal crashes and screeching guitar notes uniting in the mix to construct an outstanding climax.
An all-too-often misstep noticed in any collective that transitions or otherwise makes alterations to their identity is that they compromise what made them click
—the roots of their successful product are severed, left in the rearview mirror. However, TRVSS remain dedicated to their furious, in-your-face ventures; plenty of volatile frolics with a punk spirit are inserted, their force indisputably doubled by the vile dissonance coursing through the runtime of the album. The abrasive opener “In a Sense” establishes the raucous, chaotic temperament of TRVSS’s latest offering while simultaneously acting as a attractive lead-in; the clashing guitars, winding around each other, hardly perceptible beyond their unbridled noise, make for an incredible climax, though they also showcase an ability to perform twisting post-hardcore notes that build intrigue in the verses. On the more extreme end is the sub-two-minute strike of “New Pornographers,” which is spurred into action by a runaway hardcore riff and a groovy low end, its volume heightened to an extent where it could shatter headphones. Following in a comparable fashion is the rapid “Malaria.” Undoubtedly the most punk-inspired number to be found on the record, the prompt song sprints ahead through a charismatic vocal performance and an uncannily memorable central riff. The adrenaline-pumping tune never lets up and propels the momentum of the album forward. Regardless of the precise presentation of these diverse set of entries, there is never a sacrifice of emotion or flow from each included piece to next, leading to an experience that manages to switch up proceedings without causing confusion.
It is potentially this tight-rope-esque balance that excels the most. A potent level of rage is unleashed in under thirty minutes, leaving one to reckon with a quick, albeit vicious record. No levity can be uncovered inside the bedlam; the omnipresent dissonance is the unquestionable authority on the record and rules with an iron fist, melting away any sunshiny veneer into nothing but a searing hot mass. Its weapon of choice remains the brutality of the low end courtesy of a monstrous bass participation. Anything that could be considered heavy is brought up an extra degree as guitars whirl about, the swarming, reverberating notes drenching the listener in static as manic vocals prance around—violent outpourings of screams at once, punk hooks the next, droning phrases after that. Whether or not this is truly derived from the flurry of emotions surrounding 2020 is ambiguous. No matter what the actual purpose is, should the mystery be stripped away or not, New Distances
is a remarkable listen deserving of praise. Certain tweaks were made to the sound emitted off the debut, though it was never to the detriment of the band’s overall growth; the post-hardcore motifs are welcome additions and perfect compliments to the aural devastation on display. This is an album that thrives on conflict, revels in the noise it generates in its destructive wake, and wastes no time moving on to the next unforgiving episode. Given their status as an underground player in the grand scheme of the industry, it would be unfortunately easy to pass up on TRVSS and their strides in songwriting. Anyone curious about the sound of 2020 should take a dive into these depths; there’s a comfort in headbanging the grievances away.