By Sam Schles
For many American listeners, their first sample of the music of The Temper Trap came from the trailer for (500) Days of Summer. But now the Australian quartet proves they can stand on their own—no motion picture needed.
Their debut album Conditions is marked by choppy guitars, hammering drums and most notably front man Dougy Mandagi’s soaring vocals. The art of the falsetto is alive and well, featured on tracks “Sweet Disposition” and “Rest”. Mandagi’s only rivals for such a modern voice are Mathew Bellamy of Muse and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses.
Much like Band of Horses, The Temper Trap opts for swooping epic tracks on which Mandagi’s voice can glide over. The jazzy and ethereal “Fools” is a prime example. The band takes a page out of The Edge’s book, coating the song with delayed guitars and escalating synths. The sensibilities of the 1980s are clearly heard all over the album, including the toe-tap inducing “Fader.” So if you’re a fan of New Order, U2 or hand clapping, this album is perfect for you.
The majesty of Conditions is not fully realized until the thunderous “Down River.” As Mandagi warbles the chorus over and over again, you realize this is not just the next Coldplay, as they have often been compared to. The Temper Trap doesn’t rely on orchestras and light shows—the guitars, drums and vocals speak for themselves.
It’s understandable that “Soldier On” follows “Down River,” the most delicate and meditative track on the record. While the song is beautifully written and executed, the guitar riffs seem stolen from Nico’s “Fairest of All Seasons.” Of course, that doesn’t stop anyone from listening. Mandagi’s voice not only grabs you, but wraps you in a blanket and reminds you, “Soldier on, soldier on, keep your heart, close to the ground.”
The weakest track, “Resurrection,” is a misguided trip. It goes from techno to indie rock in five minutes flat. It is unclear where the band is trying to go in the song. It’s possible they don’t know either, but perhaps that’s the point.
The Temper Trap has found what works best for them in Conditions, a sprawling, Gone With the Wind epic-vibe. They play up their attributes to create one incredible debut record. However, it will be interesting to see if the band manages to grow or will be a slave to Mandagi’s sweet voice for albums to come.