While most of the music industry was rampaging through the South By South West festival the other week in a blizzard of recreational pharmaceuticals and entitled bravado, you can imagine that Austin’s Troller were hiding in the shadows, feasting on bats and picking off the occasional sleep-deprived A&R man with a swift nibble of the neck.
The sun-soaked state of Texas is better known for its psychedelic rock groups (13th Floor Elevators, Ringo Deathstarr, etc.), post-rockers like Explosions In The Sky and Stars Of The Lid, and indie guitar troupes such as Spoon and Okkervil River. But Austin also hosts a colony of more gothic acts, resistant to such fripperies and far more interested in the darker aspects of life.
Catering for those outcasts, there’s the Darkest Before Dawn show on the local koop.fm radio station, the Elysium alternative nightclub and the Secret Oktober goth fashion store (who also put on events). There are also a bunch of post-punk darkwave groups based there who sound like they’d be more at home moping around 1970s Sheffield. These include Knifight, De Palma, Rikroshi, Musidora Vampires and Troller.
The instrumental introductory track of Troller’s second LP is called ‘Hellscape’, which is surely the title of a Clive Barker novel waiting to happen. It eases the listener into the album’s theme by creating a somewhat uneasy atmosphere with its sighing synth lines. Next up is Graphic’s title track, which sets the tone for the rest of the record’s warped mechani-goth-pop songs with its slow pace, ominous organ chords and sorrowful vocals. In the tracks’ final couple of minutes, Amber Goers abandons words altogether, trading instead in suitably ghostly wails. Goers is also the trio’s bassist and her riffing hits its doom-prophesying peak on later track ‘Sundowner’, which boasts the kind of robotically chunky, industrial bass-line that would get the young, scraggly-haired Trent Reznor salivating down his Skinny Puppy t-shirt.
Other numbers have a slightly lighter touch, such as ‘Storm Maker’, with its warmer keyboard sound; a concoction of some lost Trans Am ballad, Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’ and a David Lynch soundtrack, cauldron-brewed by cyber-witches and poured very slowly into your bare ear. Similarly, there may be a chart hit of the ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ variety trying to worm its way out of the verses of ‘Nothing’’s half-speed alien gooiness, even if the track has more immediate sonic parallels to Canada’s Essaie Pas or New York’s Winkie.
The sung numbers are interspersed with shorter, ambient instrumentals, which work extremely well, providing variety without interrupting or ruining Graphic’s coherence. Of these, ‘They Body’ could be a broken, haunted, dead child’s toy attempting to play a disturbing nursery rhyme while ‘Dryld’ resembles the spookiest traffic jam you’ll ever get stuck in.
At nearly nine minutes in length, ‘Torch’ rounds the album off in an indulgent but far from tedious style and makes you wonder why Troller didn’t stretch out some of its preceding compositions a little further. This is music to wallow in, after all. Still, it leaves you wanting more and maybe this final track is an indication of the route they plan to take on album number three. If and when they make that record, Troller might also want to work a little longer on their beats because, if we’re honest, those exhibited here are pretty rudimentary. This is surely intentional but it can distract from Troller’s otherwise fine soundscapes when the electronic drums echo the kind of tinny thumps you used to make with your first primary-school, battery-operated keyboard. That’s only a minor quibble, however, and Graphic certainly adds to Austin’s burgeoning darkwave scene in pitch-black leather-jacketed style.