Album Review: the Temper Trap – Conditions

By on Monday, 8th March 2010 at 12:00 pm

It’s been quite a while since the Temper Trap‘s debut album ‘Conditions’ was released (June 2009 for the UK and October 2009 for America). But seeing that the Melbourne, Australia indie rockers will be headlining their first North American tour next week at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, I wanted to take a closer look at their first major release that made the top 25 in the UK albums chart.

Prior to reviewing the album, I was aware of probably the same two songs everyone else is, if they’ve been listening to UK radio over the last 6 months or so. ‘Sweet Disposition’ is arguably the song that broke them first in the UK (thanks to radio airplay) and then America (thanks to the young person romance film ‘(500) Days of Summer.’ Featuring the smooth falsetto of lead singer Dougy Mandagi and bouncy guitar, it’s one of those songs that I initially lumped in with “infinite”-sounding tracks like Delphic’s ‘Counterpoint’, but then later realised they were completely different (the Temper Trap going for the indie rock sound vs. Delphic’s more electronic bent). The album’s opening track ‘Love Lost’ sounds like the younger brother of ‘Sweet Disposition’ – a bit more jazzier at times but falling short of its elder sibling.

‘Fader’, the other song in question, is completely different, and in my opinion, it’s one of the better tracks on the album. A very summery pop song, it’s got “ooh ooh oohs” that encourage the listener to join in (and don’t even try to tell me haven’t sung along or at least once played air guitar upon hearing it). Interestingly, Mandagi’s voice in this sounds like he’s from the Deep South (think of Caleb Followill’s drawl in Kings of Leon‘s ‘Revelry’). Had I not known this band was from Oz, I’d probably made the completely incorrect assumption they were from Dixie.

Falsettos can certainly divide: some people love songs sung in a falsetto voice, and some don’t. I’m on the fence – I didn’t get the warblings of Hayden Thorpe (Wild Beasts) but now I’ve come to understand the appeal, and anything Muse‘s Matt Bellamy sings in a high register is okay by me. And Mandagi’s voice is the problem I see with the Temper Trap achieving mass appeal. It’s certainly not in the instrumentation – the guitars and drumming are spot on, so I’m imagine they easily kill it live. But if you aren’t a fan of the falsetto, you probably won’t dig songs like ‘Soldier On’ and ‘Fools’.

Much better is ‘Science of Fear’, supposedly released as the second single from the album but I’d never heard previously because it didn’t do a thing in any of the major countries’ album charts. On this track, the falsetto is smartly reined in and set off by fine, swirly guitars and astronaut communications. This song easily beats out anything put out by more popular American rock bands like Paramore and Fall Out Boy.

The most unique track on here is the band’s final bow, with ‘Drum Song’. It’s entirely instrumental, and at least to me, it’s entirely unexpected, and the band get kudos from me for it. But it should be noted that even on the songs with lyrics, the Temper Trap sound a bit proggy, if that’s at all possible for the 21st century. Overall, it’s a good effort for a debut album but they haven’t hit it out of the park on their first go-around. I’d be interested to see where they go for album #2.


The Temper Trap’s ‘Conditions’ is available now in the UK on Infectious Records.

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