Released May 14th on Discos Huelga
The New Trust are a trio from Santa Rosa, California consisting of husband and wife Josh Staples (bass, lead vocals) and Sara Sanger (guitar, backing vocals) with drummer Julia Lancer. Their sound, particularly on their first couple records, evokes first-wave emocore bands of the ’80s Dischord Records stable: Rites of Spring, Embrace, Jawbox, early Fugazi. I became a fan when I saw them open for the Smoking Popes in 2011. When I caught them again last October, they were on the beginning leg of a US tour, road-honing new songs that they’d be recording with Steve Albini in Chicago for their fifth album. Staples and I had a conversation about Albini’s bands (Big Black, Rapeman, Shellac) and recording techniques.
When the band came back through San Diego 6 months later, opening for Field Mouse and Laura Stevenson, they had the finished LP, Keep Dreaming, in hand. In what I thought was a bold move, they played pretty much the whole album straight through as their set. Rarely do you see an opener play nothing but all-new material that even the few fans in the room have never heard before. I queried Sanger about it afterward and she said they were just really excited to play the newest stuff they’d written, to keep things as current as possible. So kudos to them for being forward-thinking.
Keep Dreaming is a darker, moodier record thematically than The New Trust’s previous releases (and this is a band whose previous album titles were Dark Is the Path Which Lies Before Us and Get Vulnerable). “I should be embarrassed of the things I cherish and the things I dismiss as meaningless”, says Staples in opener “Refined”, a track that begins as a rocker with big drums but then morphs into minimalism in its latter half, Staples bringing out a slow, almost depressive bassline while Lancer rides the cymbals distantly in the background.
In “Compromise” Staples tackles the idea of sacrificing one’s artistic vision to outside influences: “Let us begin where we went wrong: Lifted the lead from that Asia song, catered the beat to the engineer, struggle not to think about it too long”. It’s one of the reasons the band chose to work with Albini, who’s known as a “hands off” engineer. He’s got certain microphones that he likes, and he tries to capture the sound of the room and of each instrument, but he’s not telling the band what to do. He’s trying to get a recording of the group playing at their best, and ask them if they like it, and that’s the record. There’s very much a live-in -the-studio feel to Keep Dreaming that can be attributed both to Albini’s recording style and to the fact that the band played these songs every night on tour for 3 weeks straight before laying them to tape.
Death is a theme that comes up quite a bit in Keep Dreaming. “A lot of the songs are about a lot of friends of mine who have died”, says Staples. Take “Veterans Affairs”, about a wounded vet who took his own life: “He was one of the biggest New Trust fans I know, and he would travel out to see us in all the western states, but he died because he just couldn’t handle being in what was essentially constant pain since he got home from being a vet. Like just chronic pain, and he just eventually couldn’t take it, so he didn’t.” “Some would say he finally stopped the pain”, go the lyrics, “but I would argue that he left it to us all”. Another example is “Marigolds”, in which Staples muses on his body helping to fortify animals and the land after his death: “When I die, let it be in the field / This land’s been good to me / Let the next crop come through me”. The song has a neat music video, shot by Sanger using time lapse photography, of a bed of marigolds growing, then withering over a 4 month period. Then there’s album closer “In My Dreams, You’re Still Alive”, the theme of which should be pretty obvious.
The only real uptempo moment on Keep Dreaming is “Obsidian”, which begins with a driving punk drum and guitar rhythm, but even that belies a dark undercurrent as the song quickly shifts to a moody tale in which “talking is torture and feelings are trite” . This kind of frenetic energy and dynamic shift in tempo and mood is something The New Trust have made a bit of a signature of over the course of their records. This album in particular has melodies that are heavy and harmonies that are dissonant, creating a dense listening experience full of weighty yet cathartic emotions. It’s a direction the band has increasingly gone down since dropping from a quartet to a trio several years ago, and it suits the themes of Keep Dreaming quite well. Give it a listen.