Trupa Trupa’s macabre poetic outlook has much in common with contemporary exponents of psychogeography, such as one Iain Sinclair, whose wanderings around London’s orbital networks elicit a meandering prose that seeks to uncover concealed essences of the city. Wanderlust also inhibits the work of this Polish four-piece, who hail from Gdansk. Like London, their city has a fraught history, due to its strategic placement on the Baltic coast. Having been shuttled between Prussian, Russian and German forces, as well as experiencing bouts of independent self-government, Gdansk has forged a unique identity. Unlike London, this identity is yet to be compromised, with many of it layers still waiting to be uncovered.
Mirroring the the multifaceted character of Gdansk, Trupa Trupa’s latest album, Jolly New Songs, is imbued with layers of meaning that border on contradiction. For example, the sickly-sweet glissando melody in Coffin is counterbalanced with lyrical imagery of burning trees, singing people and long, romantic slumbers in a wooden overcoat. Then, just as you’re more or less settled in the sonic field, the middle section plunges you into Švankmajerian underworld soundtracked by an overture of backwards synths and overzealous delay pedals.
The album is also filled with various malapropistic moments, such as the very first line of Against Breaking Heart of a Breaking Heart Beauty, in which the band’s frontman, Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, appears to sing “treason” before correcting himself, and clarifying, that all the “trees are red / all you’ve missed is in my hand”. Further down the rabbit hole, in Falling, Kwiatkowski claims to have “invented the womb”, but perhaps he is merely wounded.
Trupa Trupa’s metallic grooves and tumbling time signatures have a habit of leading the listener into a false state of security, before yanking the carpet from beneath her ears. For example, the album’s title track ends abruptly, mid-phrase. This trick has been played before by Dinosaur Jr., on their cover of the Cure’s Just Like Heaven, but it’s nevertheless striking the first few times you experience it here. Later, on Only Good Weather, a pleasant afternoon stroll through a local meadow suddenly turns into an excruciating crawl through a monochromatic urban wasteland. This frenzied shift is punctuated by an assault of detuned synths, a technique used by the band throughout the album, in order to destabilise what may otherwise be considered standard alt. rock compositions.
Whilst Trupa Trupa are sonically similar to the angular, anxious pace pioneered by Slint, and owe something to Shellac’s curt and textured rhythm section, they nonetheless display brave tendencies for humour, noble psychedelia and a macho intensity befitting the Jesus Lizard. Jolly New Songs is a meditation on identity and the compromises we make in order to secure it. The title, of course, is ironic. There is little joy here. Instead, the band presents a pervasive, creeping atmosphere that sometimes teases the listener towards earthly delights, but never delivers on its promises. It is a blizzard that threatens to extinguish all light from your paraffin lamp, after beguiling you into undertaking a solitary tour of Gdansk’s most sinister cemetery. It is a cold, dark record and certainly worthy of your attention.