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The Temper Trap's debut debacle

BY KRISTYN ACHO
For the Daily
Published October 11, 2009

Most listeners probably got their first taste of The Temper Trap's frothy sound from “500 Days of Summer.” After appearing in the film, the song “Sweet Disposition” became an overnight sensation and practically every indie blog was citing The Temper Trap as 2009’s “Band to Watch.”

But after months of anticipation for the band's debut album Conditions, it looks like The Temper Trap may not be destined for anything more than mere background music. Leaving behind its underground persona, the Aussie quartet has fallen into the trap of mainstream stadium-primed indie pop. Conditions feels like a sell-out, relying on insipid lyrics and repetitive guitar riffs. We’ve heard it all before — and we’ve heard it done better by the likes of Coldplay and U2. And that’s not saying much.

To be fair, Conditions has its high moments. “Sweet Disposition” and “The Science of Fear” are the album’s saviors. On “Sweet Disposition,” electric keyboard breezily plays over Dougy Mandagi’s sweet falsettos, creating atmospheric and unforgettable melodies. While the “Science of Fear” may have a predictable rhythm, it's emotionally gripping and doesn’t let up until the song’s end.

Next, “Down River” is a jovial sing-along that mixes chanting vocals and an orchestra of instruments including horns, organs and guitars. The outcome is a vivid rhythm that builds over Mandagi’s dreamy yelps, and the song feels as though it could have been taken directly from Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. On the spontaneous and upbeat “Down River,” the band finally foregoes its musical insecurities and lets loose.

The six-minute “Soldier On” is a haunting track complete with pulsing guitar parts and a wailing chorus. It hobbles along against a depressing and painful backdrop, relying on tired, moody and brooding lyrics like, “Death will you take me tonight,” and “Keep your heart close to the ground.” The first four minutes are entranced in acoustic synchronizations before awkwardly shifting into a dismal rock ballad. Between the dark lyrics and meandering base, the cacophony is all too overwhelming.

Mandagi’s wide-ranging, high-pitched vocals are what make the album memorable. But in tracks like “Fader,” they come off as irritating in a way that can only be rivaled by the signature skills of Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos. “Fader” is The Temper Trap’s shameless attempt at a pop song. Between the incessant “woo-hoos” and throwback electric beat, the track proves to be saccharinely sweet, like eating cake frosting straight from the tube — it seems like the best idea at the time, but regret inevitably follows. The band will probably look back on this attempt to diverge into uncharted music genres and cringe.

Conditions is a debut album in every sense of the word. From its quaint and mainstream pop songs to its hardcore indie-depression ballads, it’s obvious these guys struggled to find their point of view. While Mandagi’s bouncing vocals save the album from complete failure, the album’s lack of fluidity is inexcusable for a band with so much apparent potential.


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