As a band, Trailer Trash Tracys has pared down to a duo but increased in sonic intricacy in the five years since releasing its first album. The band’s new full-length release, Althaea, is the long-awaited follow-up to that debut, Ester, and it demonstrates a broader range of influences and new layers in the band’s particular brand of pop music.
Founding members Susanne Aztoria and James Lee now form the core duo of Trailer Trash Tracys, with support from musicians Bei Bei Wang and Leo Martin. As with their debut, Althaea is full of dreamy songs that verge on the melancholic. Where it exceeds the first, however, is in the infusion of tropical and Southeast Asian tones and rhythms that have been introduced as new layers to the ethereal electronic soundscapes around which the band has built its following.
Amidst the Althaea’s shimmering orchestral swells and cascading xylosynths, there is still enough dissonance and atonality to transform each song into something more interesting and engaging than it otherwise might be. The layered instrumentation—including Hawaiian lap steel guitar and water percussion in addition to more traditional indie pop implements—evokes the chiming of Filipino kulintang gongs, the peals of a steel drum and the echoing hammer of a bamboo windchime, among other sounds. Aztoria’s vocals more often than not serve in the same role as these instruments: often unintelligible as words or narrative, instead just soaring high notes and sighing lows. The result is hauntingly beautiful and a bit sultry, and ultimately unnerving around the edges.
Certainly, though, there are places where the album doesn’t quite work: “Betty’s Cavatina” at times sinks into carnivalesque repetition akin to an organ grinder; the rare moments when lyrics become solid words are disappointing when contrasted with Aztoria’s normally breathy phonemes and insinuations; and some songs, such as “Singdrome,” are simply too straightforward in their delivery, coming off as anonymous and mundane on an album that is otherwise largely full of songs that cannot be so easily lumped into the simplistic category of dream pop—though even these would fit in well on-stage at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse.
As the band cites cinematic influences—from Lynch to Weerasethakul—for Althaea, in addition to Sufi poetry, mythology, and tropical pop from around the world, there is a fitting logic that the new album is itself also a soundtrack to a film of the same name, directed by Raya Martin. Shot in the Philippines, the film shares the Southeast Asian aesthetics that suffuse the band’s new songs while also providing visuals for the music videos that accompany the first two singles from the album.
Those singles—“Eden Machine” and “Siebenkäs”—are strong selections from the album overall, neither too challenging nor too simplistic. Compared to the band’s broad popularity in the two years leading up to their debut album, the current direction of their work is more interesting and even arresting at times. In all, Althaea sets the tone for ambitious future work by Trailer Trash Tracys and provides a perfect soundtrack for in-between days like these, when music maintains a bridge to the lushness of summer as the melancholy of colder months begins to approach.