Review Summary: "Over time, expansiveness decreases while potency increases." -Josh Waitzkin
“Prodigy” wouldn’t be nearly enough to describe somebody like Josh Waitzkin. An American chess champion and international martial arts competitor, Josh was the subject of the unbelievably dated movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, a film that yearned to understand the mind of a human sponge like him. Eventually, Waitzkin gave us the answer himself with his book “The Art of Learning”, which introduced me to a fascinating concept that Josh calls “numbers to leave numbers”, or “form to leave form”. In his own words, it can be described as follows:
“Some part of my being was harmonizing all my relevant knowledge, making it gel into one potent eruption, and suddenly the enigmatic was crystal clear”.
The reason that You Will Never Know Why kicks every other pop rock album’s ass is because this quote describes its entire mission statement. Sweet Trip immersed themselves fully into a jarring, nostalgic, and atmospheric blend of shoegaze and electronic on their seminal effort Velocity:Design:Comfort, only to top it by completely shedding their skin and gelling all their efforts together into a potent eruption of sublime melody and songwriting. You Will Never Know Why is an effortless combination of sophistication and accessibility, and while it falls ever so short of being pop perfection, it’s a world that every uninitiated listener should be chomping at the bit to visit.
The album’s artistic differences from its predecessor are obvious right out of the gate, as opener “Conservation of Two” immediately locks in with groovy syncopation and the use of warmer, less alien drum samples. “Conservation” is a genius choice for an opener, as it can be thought of as a microcosm of the record’s sound. It’s incredibly easy on the ears, with the jangly guitars and heavily reverbed vocal tracks constructing an ethereal soundscape, but beneath this infectious melody is an expertly hidden layer of subtlety, characterized by start-stop meter changes that seem invisible until they’re sought out by the listener. “Conservation” also lacks a traditional structure despite being one of the catchiest songs ever written, with its trajectory representing exponential growth more than the traditional “heart-rate monitor” style structure of pop songwriting. Every hook is bigger and stronger than the last, a wonderful achievement accomplished by many other songs on the record, most notably “Darkness” and closer “Your World Is Eternally Complete”. This mix of experimentation and accessibility is also apparent on the album’s longest track “Acting”, which combines its sprawling song structure and tempo changes with Eastern-tinged vocal melodies and dreamy guitars.
What’s truly fascinating about You Will Never Know Why is how it manages to evoke a similar combination of emotions as V:D:C while sounding almost entirely different in parts. Sure, there’s the bonus track “Female Lover” that almost seems intended as homage to the V:D:C era of the band, but YWNKW finds new ways to make Roberto Burgos and Valerie Cooper sound like they’re trapped in a malfunctioning rainbow. Where V:D:C tracks like “Velocity” and “Dedicated” utilized constantly varying drum loops to take the listener on a disorienting journey through the clouds, YWNKW can be seen as the same odyssey, but from the perspective of the ground, watching the storm pass and the clouds break through in real time. The way the “Air Supply” keyboard intro feels like gentle raindrops, the way the sun emerges in all its glory on “No Words to Be Found”, to the way “Your World Is Eternally Complete” turns the entire record into a double rainbow; every moment maintains that same colorful attitude that V:D:C thrived off, but from an entirely different perspective, which is extremely admirable.
There are some slight missteps. Once the album hits the barely believable high that is “Darkness”, it takes a bit to recover, following up that sublime musical moment with the by-the-numbers “To the Moon” and two back-to-back interludes that would have made a more cohesive track if they had been put together. “Female Lover” was intended as a bonus track, and honestly would have made for a more satisfying interlude than the aforementioned two if it had been cut down in length. The album’s back half stands on the shoulders of its two gargantuan highlights, “Pretending” and “Your World Is Eternally Complete”, two heaping servings of dopamine that contain some of the most vibrant hooks ever laid down. It’s these moments, where Sweet Trip really try to scrape the sky, that make YWKNW such a success.
Through a complete pivot in their songwriting style, Sweet Trip somehow managed to stay true to their musical identity while adding plenty of new sounds to their resume. Sweet Trip mastered their form to leave their form, and in the process crafted one of the finest dream pop records of the 2000’s, and in a roundabout way, the perfect follow-up to their most celebrated record. This doesn’t mean the record itself is perfect, but it comes impressively close, and they certainly succeeded in making their enigmatic sound crystal clear.