Caught In The Darkness

Trolley

Easter Records, 2016

http://www.trolleymilwaukee.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/29/2018

The thing you always wonder when a group opts for a heavily retro sound is how sincere they are. Are they playing for you, or with you? No matter how well they capture the sound of a foregone era, so many retrophile musical artists these days can’t seem to resist the temptation to wink at the audience, to be ironic and break that wall and force you to suspend disbelief and remember it’s 2018 and they’re just messing with you.

Not Trolley; this is a group that appears completely sincere and committed to their sound, which assembles a hearty broth of British Invasion-isms and sprinkles just enough punky attitude on the vocals that you don’t mistake them for a Yardbirds tribute band. And it works, because the group—Paul J. Wall on vocals and guitar, Mike Perotto on vocals, guitar and keys, and Terry Hackbarth on vocals, bass and guitar, supported by Jon Phillip and Sean Reynolds behind the drum kit—has analyzed and absorbed the architecture and feel of this particular genre so thoroughly that the songs never feel like pastiche or homage or parody. They just feel like songs out of time.

Trolley’s one-sheet describes their sound as “built from the best elements of psychedelia and punk, classic pop and the hard driving beat of the Mod era.” No argument here—the vintage jangle-fuzz guitar, the assertive backbeat, and the simple, insistently catchy melodies are all present, recreated with loving care and fervent enthusiasm. The vocals can feel a bit garage-y at times—the only real hint of punk—but that only adds to the sense you’ve stepped through a time-traveling rabbithole and dropped onto the dance floor of a Northern England club circa 1964 to hear a set of lost gems from a band that fell through the cracks. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Having established Trolley’s sound, it’s a bit more challenging to talk about individual songs because, like many collections of British Invasion singles, the songs here all feel of a piece, melding together into a soundtrack rather than jumping out as individual creations. What stands out instead are the moments where the sound varies a bit from the basic template, as when the opening title track features some rather New Wave-y organ tones, or “Thursday Girl” leans Ramones on the vocals. My notes on the next four songs all amount to the same thing: groovy, Mod British Invasion 1964-65 Who/Kinks/Zombies with some edge on the vocals. (Okay, one note: “She Has It All” has a sweet groove and a few playful psychedelic touches.)

“I’ll Stand In Line” takes a slightly different tack by featuring glockenspiel and a rather plaintive vocal—which also raises a pet peeve. It’s evident that each of the core trio takes turns on lead vocals, but the songs are all credited to all three and there are no track-by-track credits, so you can only guess at who’s actually singing each track. Anyway: “She Helps Me Celebrate” is a favorite, with that classic pumping/stuttering 1964 backbeat and rudimentary Hammond organ framing an anthemic number with genuine fire to it.

And then there’s more. “Losing That Madly In Love With Her Feeling” answer the musical question, “What would it have sounded like if Donovan had fronted the Animals?” The guitars grow a little too big and clean on “We All Fall Down” and “The Kids All Sing,” threatening to break the spell cast by the rest of the album, but it’s a minor point in the grander scheme of things. Finally, closer “Take My Love” demonstrates that even when Trolley goes a little bit novelty, they stick with genre conventions and refuse to slip into parody, keeping the trappings true to the time period, down to the haunted-mansion Hammond organ and harpsichord, and non-threateningly spooky echo on the vocals. After a pleasant-enough 3.5 minute song, they slip into an extended fantasia / jam with theater-of-the-mind flourishes that’s fun for the first minute, but goes on for nearly four. Ah, well.

Over the years, plenty of bands have dabbled in a retro sound while assuring audiences that they were in on the joke with a tone that often lapsed into parody (I’m thinking of The Knack here, though examples abound). The thing about Trolley is, the mask never slips. Wall, Perotto and Hackbarth are 100% committed to their sound 100% of the time. And that forces you to take this album for what it is—not pastiche or homage or parody, but a serious and largely successful attempt to write and perform original music within the frame of a familiar, classic sound. Dig it, man—I did.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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