Trapist’s first two albums were all about the merging of forms and genres. Sometimes percussionist Martin Brandlmayr, guitarist Martin Siewert and double bassist Joe Williamson sounded like improvisers who wanted to play songs; other times, they used their improvisations as platforms for electronic exploration accomplished in post-production. Either way, free music was their common ground.
The Golden Years is their first record in eight years, and rather than further reconnoitering and defining their territory, they’re using it as a given. The task now is to do something with the sound they’ve developed, and this brings them further into the arms of song. Which isn’t to say that they’re standing up and singing; their music remains completely instrumental. But they’re using essentials like tunes and beats to tell a story.
The album cover, with its yellow-tinted images of old campgrounds, clues you to the album’s theme of memory, and the opening chords of “The Gun That’s Hanging In The Kitchen Wall” have a suspended, dreamy quality, but they’re both red herrings that set you up for something more warm and fuzzy than what The Golden Years delivers. Mellow strumming gives way to immaculately joined layers of fractious drumming and squelchy electronic tones, which in turn yields to a melancholy but hummable stroll. Think about the past and you’re liable to remember something not so rosy.
Flip the record over and there’s a tune called “Pisa.” The town may be fixed in the minds of millions as a novelty or a tourist trap, and Siewert’s lazy plucking over a repeating synth tone is congruent with post-vacation reverie. But Williamson and Brandlmayr each hack away at the tune like woodworkers determined to get that paint stripped away before lunchtime, chopping and scraping before finally falling in line with the guitarist’s fading figures. Did someone go through a bout of food poisoning or get their passport stolen? Whatever the trouble, it’s well conveyed by the music’s carefully deployed elements of unrest. Trapist isn’t experimenting anymore; the trio is using the tools they know best to subvert nostalgia and keep you ill at ease.