Justin was the name of the first guy I ever made out with. He was pale, with dyed black hair, fishnets on his arms and a blank expression. I was 15 and he was no doubt a few years older, if only for the fact that he had a car and apparently a job at an espresso stand. That night, we were at a Texaco station, sitting on a curb and slurping hungrily at each other’s greasy faces, knocking my blue plastic lunchbox on its side and crunching his GPC cigarettes under his bony ass. Meanwhile, my best girl friend Kat sat over in a grassy spot keeping lookout and smoking her preferred brand of Benson & Hedges Menthol 100s. It felt like a sexy moment. But after some hours had passed, a kind of unsettled guilt set in. Something hadn’t been right. Was it the fumes emanating from the gas pumps? Was it Justin’s make-up rubbing off on my face? Still, making out with a dude in public left me feeling emboldened.
Trust is a band that makes me feel this way: Dirty and kind of sorry for myself, and yet ready to take on the world. It’s an isolated sound, regretful but relishing. It’s the sound of playing dress-up by yourself, but you’re a serial killer with a Hot Topic employee trapped at the bottom of the well in your basement. It’s Erasure fronted by Buffalo Bill. In other words, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a band.
Casey Spooner of Fischerspooner played me Trust for the first time off his ear buds in a restaurant in SoHo a couple years ago. I’ve been listening ever since. So needless to say, I’d been heavily anticipating the release of Joyland, and I’m thrilled to say it’s an incredible record.
Trust is Toronto artist Robert Alfons, and Joyland is the follow-up to his 2012 debut TRST. That album featured Maya Postepski of Austra providing support and additional vocals, but this time Alfons is going it alone. With distance, I can now safely say that TRST is my favorite record of that year. It flawlessly combined ’90s goth-industrial with electro-shadow-trance (I just made that up) with no stupid irony or mugging included.
With Joyland, Trust has made a truly sinister sequel that sounds like a kind of electric mildew flourishing in some Romanian castle that hosted a third-rate rave eight years ago. It’s a cheap and chintzy lay, but with Alfons’ demonic voice, a wet bed has never looked so tempting to lie down in. It’s an affair between a smacked-out bullfrog and a cancerous swan, forever sailing through a Tunnel of Hate.
The album truly begins with second song “Geryon,” a worthy thesis statement of propulsive circus synth leads and some Sex Dwarf thrown in, still without even a hint of a smile. “Capitol” displays one of Alfons’ strange talents: For someone who mumbles and mutters so much, he seems to have a real knack for an epic, fist-raised, soaring melody. Further in, the title track sounds like a Christmas morning with a dusting of volcanic ash. The lyrics are never intelligible; but no matter, it’s the feeling that bleeds through. Clocking in at 50 minutes, the songs fly by. If the album is lacking anything, it’s a little more downtime. Some of my favorite moments on TRST were the quieter ones.
The hooks are strange, but they come in abundance. Every song has icy synth jabs, rhythmic stutters and beautiful, uplifting melodic motifs that beg to be replayed. Some moments bring to mind the majesty of the Sisters of Mercy, or the machinations of classic KMFDM. It’s a creepy, hauntingly addictive dance record. And damned if I’ve heard anything I like more in a long time.
So back again to when I was 15: I went to visit Justin a couple weeks after our make-out sesh at his barista job. He took a break and showed me some photos that he recently had developed. They were grainy snapshots of him giving someone a blow job, with a black veil placed delicately over his head. To my 15-year-old eyes, the pictures were depraved: This person’s world was deeper and darker than my own. I felt disturbed, the vibe was too heavy and I never saw him again. Listening to Trust brings me back to that small, revelatory moment, but it also allows me don that black veil and relish feeling like a creep.