I should say before I start that this record has an unfair weight to bare upon it’s shoulders. Trust Fund are responsible for my favourite record of the past decade, No-one’s Coming For Us, a record that, upon it’s release in February 2015, I played to death for months. Though for short periods it may have slipped out of my consciousness, it has remained with me as friend, revealer of hard truths and comforter in times of desperation ever since. It also contains the line “in your situation I would do exactly the same thing”, which I have used to justify to myself all sorts of bullshit, something which sounds like a small thing but isn’t. So the news of a new Trust Fund record is heartening but, after a month of anticipation, it felt a bit ominous. Having built it up a great deal, surely it could only disappoint?
I shouldn’t have worried. Bringing The Backline is a fine album and, in a sense, Trust Fund’s most approachable LP yet. The intricate male/female harmonies of earlier records have now given way to massive sounding, football chant choruses, the demoish production replaced with a clean, commercial sound and the effect on at least half of the songs is to make them sound like they’d be unlikely to frighten the horses on daytime radio. Opener “Blue X” is a career defining banger, it’s rolling, glam rhythm and infectious, tumbling melody belying the desperate living of the lyrics. Ellis Jones makes ‘Sunday suicidal ideation’ sound not just neutral but positively cheerful as he examines his love/ hate relationship with being (in) Trust Fund, a theme that returns throughout the LP, his conclusions being ambivalent at best. Cut from similar cloth, ‘Carson McCullers’ is undoubtably one of the best singles of the year, as chugging guitars and a whistling 80s synth line power it ever onwards towards a musically warm yet romantically disappointed climax.
Splendid as all this is, Backline sounds a world away from the twilight bedroom daydreaming of 2016’s We Have Always Lived In The Harolds, with only the pastoral gloom of “Wipe It Down” giving so much as a nod towards it. However, that isn’t to say that the band’s essential strangeness has been jettisoned. The minor dischords which were sometimes used in the past as a disrupting tactic are vastly multiplied on this record, most notably on ‘Embarrassing”, where they take such a dark turn as to almost derail the entire chorus. And there is also a distinct, oddly theatrical feel about much of the album; “Jonathan”’ is an extravagant mess of hard riffing and hair metal squalls, though closer examination reveals that the song peering out from underneath all this is considerably more touching than one might expect, whilst the jaunty repetitions and communal singalong on “King Of CM” veer close to sounding like a modern update of some lost 50s music hall number. Importantly though, these unusual elements add to, rather than undermine, the power of the songs: this a band who, like the old truism about The Fall, are always the same and always different; they tend to benefit from pushing out of their comfort zone, eventually making you wonder whether they’d simply sounded like that all along.
Backline closes with one of Jones’ most gentle and beguiling compositions, the simple, Dylanesque folk lullaby of ‘The Mill’. Amidst the circular coffee house picking, Ellis prods through both his songwriting and academic careers, concluding in typically self-effacing style that ‘the songs we write, they will not last’. That is, I suppose, for posterity to decide, though an understandable sentiment in a time where music seems increasingly ephemeral, disappearing into the Spotify morass the second that the vinyl run has sold out (as it surely will), rarely to surface again. But, coming back to where I started, if you judge music by how well it can get under your skin, to provide a soundtrack to your better days and a comfort blanket for your night terrors, then Bringing The Backline is yet another record that more than deserves to be heard down the ages, a document of a band who sound both restless for adventure but utterly at home where ever it is that they roll up.