TR/ST’s two-part opus is a record of raw emotion finely channelled into vignettes.
Sometimes the cynic in me looks at artistic decisions — like producing an elaborate concept record or recording a double album — from the calculated risk point of view. Will audiences get the concept? Do they have long-enough attention spans for more than thirty minutes of music at a time? It’s pessimistic, I know: the real value of art is not whether it makes commercial sense, but if it captures the artist’s vision. Still, in an era where artists earn a pittance for playlist streams, artistic expression and economic return seem more closely married to one another than at any other time in popular music.
Sometimes, though, the cynic in me needs a project like The Destroyer – 1 and 2 to come along and put him in his place. For his first new TR/ST music in five years, Robert Alfons parlayed the enthusiasm and rapturous applause for 2014’s Joyland and an extended creative hiatus into a deeply textured and moody double-album that feels more like an existential art installation than a pop record. Similarly to how Alfons has changed the way he stylizes the project’s name, TR/ST’s music continues to evolve: refined but essentially built upon the same foundations. The Destroyer – 1, released in April of this year, balances the contrasting menace of 2012’s TRST with Joyland’s punchy vibrancy. The result is a record of raw emotion finely channelled into vignettes: the foreboding “right there over the clouds” in “Colossal”; “Bicep”’s anguished cry: “I am naked, I am ravaged/Take a hold and, baby, put the good in me.”
Dark synths, monotone vocals, and Alfons’s impeccable, distinctive sense of melody carry across the six-month divide between 1 and 2. Still, the second half of TR/ST’s ambitious return skillfully changes the picture while maintaining the frame. TR/ST has always made undanceable dance music, and the subversion of musical tropes has never felt more evident than on The Destroyer as a whole, but specifically on Part 2. Alfons mutates his music beyond genre so that while “Iris”, “Enduring Chill”, and the project’s title track all feel rooted to TR/ST’s musical canon, they’re also a new breed of song: not fully goth, industrial, trance, or dance. “The Stain” — neither dance nor pop, ballad or banger — is the best example of TR/ST’s artistic exploration of new sounds and styles.
It would all be for naught if The Destroyer wasn’t able to convey Alfons’s artistic vision across its expansive movements. With the slightest vocal inflection in his otherwise rigid delivery, Alfons expresses grief, regret, and remorse. Sometimes, as on Part 2’s “Shame”, he needs no words at all, just a mournful piano-led melody. The risk in dividing a single work into two halves is ending up having the whole feel disjointed and disconnected. That’s not the case here. Instead of a narrative arch that travels from beginning to end, The Destroyer cycles back onto itself, suggesting that the journey through shame, fear, and self-acceptance has no beginning, middle, or end. That lack of closure is a risk in and of itself, but The Destroyer is ultimately a gamble that pays off in spades for both TR/ST and its audience.