Album Review: The Temper Trap – Conditions

The true value of Mr. Dougy Mandagi’s voice isn’t obvious until track three of his band The Temper Trap’s full-length debut, Conditions. Easily soaring above the choppy, jangling guitars, what will now be known as “the voice” has a hypnotic effect, sending chills down your spine and proving that male falsetto can be cool.

“Sweet Disposition”, the track in question, is an atmospheric, jaunting lead single. Of all the tracks, it makes the best use of his falsetto, keeping it pure and simple in the build-up until the rest of the band make their respective entrances. Understandably, numerous articles have been penned on the topic of “the voice,” an instantly marketable aspect of this Australian five piece. Mandagi is the perfect frontman: mysterious, possessing a captivating stage presence, and equipped with one of the most distinctive voices in modern music.

Conditions is ambitious, jumping between numerous styles and tempos, a promo if you like. It does well to illustrate the diversity that the band can pull off, although simultaneously proves the frenetic fast paced singles are superior to the slower introspective songs such as “Down River” and “Fools”.

It’s hard to put your finger on what makes this group so different — they aren’t the sum of their parts, so logical analysis doesn’t work. For if you took away the voice, they still wouldn’t be your average guitar band. There are only so many things you can do with effects pedals, and Nick Zinner & The Edge pretty much have the bases covered. That Conditions closes with “Drum Song”, devoid of vocals, is telling. It takes cojones to end a fantastic album without it’s strongest asset. Yet the song rattles along with the same trademark energy. You would be silly to call it ‘weak’.

The same goes for the album as a whole. Six minute epic “Soldier On” opens as a sincere ballad, devoting four minutes to a winding acoustic build before the electric guitars kick in. “Resurrection” is a powerful number, well layered and with animalistic cooing from the front man. The over-riding tone is one of frustration. From what? Looking to the lyrics yields disappointingly few clues, and The Temper Trap will remain mysterious for a few years yet. It is one of very few pitfalls.

Although The Temper Trap are only just starting to make in-ways into the UK and US mainstream markets, they have been an Australian staple for many years, with their self titled EP released in 2006. Their rise to popularity, however, coincided with a move to London and the hiring of popular producer Jim Abbiss (Massive Attack, Arctic Monkeys) to add some sheen to their arrangements. In some cases, perhaps a little too much polish. Opener “Love Lost”, with its hand claps, is sickeningly kitsch and commercial, aiming squarely at the essentially non-existent musical-sensibilities of Joe Average. It’s an unnecessary attempt.

Their set-up works best when things are kept clean and simple- on the pounding, synth-clad “Fader”, they set about writing a great pop song, and succeed, with a chorus of falsetto ooo’s which prove that Mandagi isn’t the only one with that trick up his sleeve.

The band has a very strong grasp or rhythm and timing, ably led by drummer Toby Nixon — this is most obvious on stage, where Mandagi bobs from side to side, often with eyes closed, and seemingly out of touch with the surroundings. He clearly feels the music. In the live setting, their slower songs gel, with boosted arrangements.

If I had one nagging disappointment, it is that this album flies by. It is by no means heavyweight, running at just over 40 minutes, perhaps bred from the approach that each song should be a potential single. It’s an ambitious approach and one that might better suit a band well into their career.

Conditions is its own best friend and enemy. For whilst the diversity is a sure-fire way to prove the band’s worth, it also exposes a few flaws and removes focus. However, the inherent quality of their songwriting and performance carries some of the weaker tracks, and when they are switched on, the hits ignite using all cylinders. For their next effort, they will surely adapt a more focused approach, as there is simply very little left to prove. The Temper Trap has arrived with hits in abundance. This band is here to stay.

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