'Ballroom' (Thrill Jockey, Thrill 141)
Trapist's debut album became one of my most played records of last year. At best a minimal experience, it was a bit like Charlie Haden ,Paul Motian and Ry Cooder free improvising in a roomful of faulty electronic equipment while under mild sedation. This time round, they're signed up to the consistently interesting Thrill Jockey imprint - a move which might win them more of an audience. Let's hope so, because this trio (are for my money) one of the most individual and rewarding bands around at the moment.
Ballroom is a more expansive beast than its predecessor; the core guitar/bass/drums line up has been augmented with lashings of plaintive analogue synths, gobs of dirty digital distortions and unobtrusive studio trickery. The result is a luscious, mobile soundscape, capable of ambient purr or abrasive noisebursts. They groove more too, with drummer Martin Brandlmayr and double bassist Joe Williamson locking into spare, insistent pulses. The feel is more compositional, more structured than before. Whether that's a result of predetermined structures or editing and overdubbing is neither here nor there, but what Trapist have managed is the trick of sounding not really like anyone else but themselves.
This is pretty much entirely down to the trio's feel for texture. Even at their most frenetic, there's a real sense that every sound is worked on and thought about before it's allowed to escape the instrument. Brandlmayr's gift for teasing a huge range of textures from his kit is augmented by subtle electronic shadings. Meanwhile Martin Siewert's deliberate, poised guitars (including some delicious lap and pedal steel work) weave resonant, slightly mournful lines, sometimes looped or fed through unstable treatments that threaten to rip his thoughtful melodics apart.
Ballroom may be a cerebral experience, but there's a deep (but ungraspable) emotional undertow beneath its shifting sonics. Poignant, confrontational, blissful and at 48 minutes, too short...
- Peter Marsh / BBC online
I've sung praises for Martin Brandlmayr recently on these pages. He's 1/3 of Trapist, a band whose first album flirted with numerous genres. Trapist's real star, though, is Vienna-based guitarist, Martin Siewert. From what I can tell, he is the guide through these rough musical landscapes. From folk to electronic to ambient to jazz, it was an excellent, original record that blurred the lines ofeach style. "Ballroom," Trapist's second album, is an organic masterpiece. It leads the listener down narrow corridors and back alleys of Siewert's native Vienna. I feel like I'm taking a tour of all the places time and tourism forgot.
"ObservationsTook Place" is the underground. It's the place all the oldremnants of a past era have been buried and forgotten. As you begin to wipe the dust off, you get the feeling you're being watched. Siewert weaves air-raid siren sounds in and out of Brandlmayr's industrial-tinged drumbeat. When the high-pitched, chime-y guitars fade in, it's like you've just rounded the corner and gotten a first glimpse of a bright light at the end of a long hallway.Once the drums fade into a minimal thump, a bright synthesizer takes control of the song. The subtle electronics hint at the water table being close, but the air is getting thick and you can only think of the surface. It's no use, though; the synths suck up all the oxygen in the room. Close your eyes and don't fight it. It's easier this way.
The two-part"Time Axis Manipulation" reminds me of many physicsbooks I've read. I find physics fascinating. It's intricate and complex, but often explains simple things. The first part of this track is similar in this way. It aims at relaxing, and it does just that. Trapist lays acoustic guitar and upright bass overa jazz-laced drum beat. Ambient sounds (one might be a constantalarm clock) texture the song and make it seem more alive. Subtlehorns beckon the dawn of a new day. The sun rising and setting is a pretty simple idea on one level, but the physics involved in explaining it are not. Once it degenerates into a noisy soundscape, it's as if your brain is giving up on understanding how it works, and just wants to appreciate that it actually does. Sometimes, I don't need to know the inner workings; sometimes I just want to appreciate things for what they are.
However, everything comes to a head on the final track, "For All the Time Spent in This Room." It's eighteen minutes long and never gets boring. The subtle cymbal work in the beginning sounds like a light spring rain. Joe Williamson's soggy bass is like all the dormant plant life sucking up the rainwater. Eventually the rain stops and day becomes night. Snare scraping and '50s-style reverb-laden guitars suggest tonight will be cold. It's time to hide under the blankets and prepare for snow. Spring is the biggest tease of all seasons. Just when you think the cold is gone and green grass is on its way back, winter hits you again. Synthesizers build-up and echo the guitars; there's a funk twist added hereand I love it. The song loses momentum, though. This is not a bad thing, as it's a calculated move. As it slows down, it signifies that it's time to leave the room; it's time for sleep.
I used to think scotch was disgusting, but now it's my drink of choice.Scotch is a good accompaniment to "Ballroom." It's an album you need to spend time with to fully appreciate. Like a glass of Lagavulin 16 year, it's not for everyone, but those who appreciate it will be militantly in love with it. Trapist is not immediately accessible and takes time to grow on you, but once they do, if they do, there's no denying how brilliant they really are.
- Brad Rose, Foxy Digitalis
TRAPIST - BALLROOM (CD by Thrill Jockey)
Trapist (Martin Brandlmayr, Martin Siewert and Joe Williamson) make up, essentially, a jazz trio of percussion, synths, guitars, bass and electronics. Ballroom is their sophomore release after their debut on the esteemed HatHut imprint in 2002. This is jazz for upstarts, it has a lazy, free appeal. Something along the lines of a scaled down Splatter Trio or a more temporal Grassy Knoll with shades of Dead Cat Bounce. Though, this is just the beginning. These gents know how to wreak havoc in the mix with scattered noise inserts accompanied by risky drumming and sizzling percussion provided by Brandlmayr. There is an essential dose of free beat atmosphere that twists salaciously in improvised awkwardness. Running at about 50 minutes, these five tracks fill the room with an auspicious sense of confidence. For a moment, on 'Observations Took Place' it sounds as though Siewert is channeling both John Cage and the Phantom of the Opera simultaneously until the abrupt end draws fierce punctuation to this melodious cacophony. As for risks, Trapist seems somewhat fearless for a three-man operation gliding over its aural canvas like a masterful brush in the form of strings, metal and digital memorabilia. 'The Meaning of Flowers' is the only track here that seems slightly lackluster, albeit for all its Sigur Ros styled subtleties, its chops are a bit lazy, hazy. Thrill Jockey will do for Trapist what Phish did for Medeski, Martin & Wood - bring a built-in fanbase that understands the logic behind experimentation and expressive sound tension to a crowd that may have little exposure to middle-aged genres like jazz.
- TJN, Vital Weekly
People seem to think that for all the surplus and prosperity of the 21st century, time is a fair trade off. Hence, utilitarian inventions like the cellphone, which has turned walking, or riding peacefully aboard a train, into a productive activity. Space followed a similar injunction when we decided to industrialize two centuries ago. Now any so-called wasting of either commodity is considered a sin among those who seek to be "winners" in this world. Well, pardon me if this isn't exactly the most trenchant observation, but, what is it all for? Of all our needs and desires that seem to manifest in material goods, I believe what we really want, above all else, is our time and our space back.
Vienna-based trio Trapist share my feelings. On their second full-length, Ballroom , the band make the musical assertion that it's impossible to waste time or space, unless, perhaps, you overstuff it with useless filler. Though the group composes primarily through improvisation, both electronic and acoustic, every note on Ballroom feels spectacularly preordained, as if under the mystical spell of a world as it should be. Unfortunately, that world is all too foreign to even the most pedantically existential of us, and it may take a complete sacrifice of one's school- or job-mandated priorities to gain an appreciation for this record. But the reward is more than just musical; what Trapist have created here is more of philosophical dissertation as spoken through the ineffable poetry of music. And their thesis, if not entirely original, is brilliantly put.
Trapist are sure to draw comparisons to composers like Morton Feldman and latter-day improv acts like The Necks, whose work attempts to propel the inherently static by transcending the time constraints of conventional music. Pieces like Feldman's For Samuel Beckett fixate on subtly repeating constructs and protract them to Zen-noise-like levels. Ballroom doesn't experiment with time so much as make exquisite use of it as an artistic element. While some of Feldman's pieces would make Trapist seem like verifiable A.D.D. cases, what this band does with modern forms of music is selfsame in spirit as Feldman's exploration of classical composition.
But while the group have their loyalties, the fragments of acoustic guitar that scatter the opening section of "Time Axis Manipulation, Pt. 1" (no coincidence there) make it abundantly clear that Trapist are capable of radiant beauty. That avowal is supported by the gradual introduction of a gently undulating organic drone, which underscores the sparse instrumental setting and forms the melodic crux of the song. The result is something akin to Keith Fullerton Whitman with a backing band. Furthermore, the synth melody that emerges at the two-minute mark of "Time Axis Manipulation, Pt. 2"-- Ballroom 's most confrontational moment to this point-- is blissfully sophisticated. The ensuing 90 seconds feel too sublime to endure the remaining five minutes, and they don't: The song gradually devolves into a crackling abyss of feedback reminiscent of Fennesz's Endless Summer or Sonic Youth's renascent noise saga, "Karen Revisited". On "Observations Took Place", the group's penchant for beauty returns, in infinitely more staggering form, as deliquescent synths build atop a looming bass-and-drums vamp, before meeting to form a dazzling sustained chord that carries the song out.
Equally essential to the makeup of Ballroom is the improvised playing of bassist Joe Williamson, guitarist Martin Siewert, and drummer Martin Brandlmayr. Brandlmayr, in particular, has an exceptional ability of evincing complex soundscapes from his kit. With the augment of minimal electronics, his parts sound like multi-musician efforts, and provide a lush rhythmic bedding on which Williamson and Siewert gladly trample. Similarly, Williamson's bass parts are mysterious and lulling, adding additional melodic depth to Trapist's formidable electronic palette. Like the best music, Ballroom is satisfying both intellectually and aesthetically, and while the record errs a bit more on the side of the former, its best moments are among the most gorgeous found in any genre.
If you aren't up for a potential overhaul of your philosophical worldview, chances are you'll consider Ballroom a waste of time. I admit, in struggling to consume it in time to meet a deadline weeks ago, the record was lost on me. Then I realized that I wasn't giving it the time or attention it demands. This album is best consumed on headphones, or at a reasonably loud volume, in order to take in every nuance. Missing a hushed analog swirl here is like missing the guitar riff that opens the body section of "Teenage Riot". Ballroom is a perfect record for a drear Saturday morning, with nothing on the agenda and no will to slate something in for later on. But then, Trapist aren't about any specific time; they embrace all hours, and dominate any one in which this disc spins.
-Sam Ubl, Pitchfork Media
'Highway My Friend' (HatHut HatOLOGY 586):
This trio chose their name well; although they haven't quite taken a vow of silence, they get pretty close to it at times. If Trapist are a power trio (and a casual glance at the guitar, bass, drums lineup might lead you to think so), they're running on an ancient car battery rather than the national grid.
This deliberate, sparse improv is about what isn't played as much as anything else. If Morton Feldman, John Cage and David Tudor had formed a rock band, they might have sounded a bit like this. On the opening tracks, Martin Siewert's minimalist guitar is hardly there; faint pencil strokes of melody or resonant drones are framed by clicks, buzzes and static. Martin Brandlmayr's drumming is as much about texture as rhythm, while Joe Williamson's bass adds a warm, dark throb.
Williamson is also credited with 'trackball'. Whether this is connected to a laptop or not isn't made clear, but occasionally more obviously electronic elements creep in, though what generates them isn't clear either. "Impex" appears to feature a modem undergoing torture, and many of the sounds here resemble equipment malfunction as much as anything else. As the album goes on Trapist get progressively less interested in silence, engaging in comparatively hyperactive exchanges which hum with a repressed, focussed energy, sometimes settling into spare, sinewy grooves.
Siewert's guitar is alternately abstract scrabble or desolate, almost bluesy in best John Fahey mode. This is best heard on the fragile "Mine Was The Shoulder You Cried On That Day", where he carefully places long, mournful notes over a soft, tumbling bed of drums and bass. It's the most conventionally beautiful moment on a CD stuffed with moments of stranger, alien beauties. Brilliant stuff.
- Peter Marsh - BBC online
Here, some might draw parallels to the European avant-garde or more specifically, a budding Austrian movement witnessed on recent releases by the “Durian” record label. Guitarist Martin Siewert (Austria), drummer Martin Brandlmayr (Austria) and bassist Joe Williamson (Canada) perform with a minimalist type spirit on this quietly fascinating effort. Recorded live in Vienna, you could barely detect a pin drop as the musicians fuse subtle thematic statements with an approach that defies categorization. Alternatively, the trio generates a stylistic approach that defies logic. On “Mascoma,” the artists' convey a calm before the storm mindset via eerie and at times subversive dialogue emanating from Brandlmayr's faint, metronome like pulse and Siewert's subtle EFX treatments. However, Williamson generates ethereal moods during several of these pieces, due to his disciplined bowed bass patterns.
The band incorporates unwieldy elements of space rock, free jazz, and more, yet metaphors or analogies cannot accurately describe their overall game plan. With the work titled “Impex,” Williamson's fluttering arco bass lines cast a foreboding aura amid Siewert's delicately fabricated distortions. Essentially, the group treks atop a virtual plane that might elicit notions of an x-y axis, although on works such as “Fenrus,” they engage in a loosely organized, free-improv exercise. A beguiling effort indeed! (Highly recommended)
- Glenn Astarita
Without oversimplifying, Trapist's Highway My Friend is in immediate continuity with SSSD's Home. In both albums, Viennese guitarist Martin Siewert pursues a form of post-improv folk, of improvised instrumental songs informed by the Free culture (from Caspar Brötzmann Massaker's rage-on blows to the restraint of Berlin reductionism) but hammered into something more structured and - dare it be said - more palatable. On this album Siewert also integrates lessons from experimental electronica. Accompanied by drummer Martin Brandlmayr and bassist Joe Williamson, Siewert lays down contemplative riffs and cutting-edge noise-making. Tracks like "Impex" and "Mine Was the Shoulder You Cried On That Day" could almost be mistaken for the Necks tunes (minus the duration, of course). Williamson locks himself up in a smooth ostinato, Brandlmayr sticks to decorative brushing and hitting, while the guitarist walks in circles around a simple motif. It's all done delicately, with an effort to push the music into new territories while keeping it grounded into an atavistic form of song-making. Other pieces like "FM" and "Fenrus" remain in the realm of electro-acoustic free improv, developing slowly over a limited amount of sonic material, yet captivating the listener. A tension is established between the two musical forms, giving Highway My Friend its distinct personality. Trapist comes out of this session a tightly knit unit, and Siewert's ongoing musical journey produces yet another fascinating postcard. Recommended.
- Francois Couture, All music guide