Highly promising EP from an Oxford trio worth a tip or two in 2012.
Mike Diver 2011
As winter nears, music critics the world over begin to turn their focus not only to what the best long-players, newcomers and unexpected successes of 2011 have been, but also to the acts they hope may light up 2012. Calculated guesswork, mostly, but there are certain outfits whose receipt of the best wishes of journos is welcomed with the knowledge that it’s been hard-earned; not for them industry-covering campaigns in quarter four. They’ve cramped up in the back of tour vans; they’ve sold their own limited-run releases from merch stalls in stinking sweat-holes; they’ve reached a tipping point through hard graft and evident passion. So, it’s hello to Trophy Wife. Won’t you come up from the underground, please?
The Oxford-based trio cut their performance chops as three-fifths of Jonquil, a wonderful indie-folk outfit fronted by Hugo Manuel, who records solo under the name Chad Valley. But their work here is no stylistic spin-off from said pursuit; it veers closer to the impatient twitch of Talking Heads meets the propulsive pulse of New Order. For the five-track EP Bruxism, their third slice of vinyl and the debut release from Blessing Force (an Oxford collective of musicians and promoters), Trophy Wife have called upon a different producer for each song. But what could have been a case of too many cooks is anything but: this is a sumptuous set which flows neatly, showcasing the band’s talent foremost, relationships with collaborators flexible so as not to overpower their core mechanics.
Up first is Canopy Shade, one of two tracks here to have had a video made for it (so far). Co-produced by the Warp-signed electro duo Plaid, it’s a crisp introduction – guitars chime, keys fizz, and the percussion is playful. Frontman Jody Prewett doesn’t bark his lines like some might given the zippiness of the music about him; instead he’s a fragile presence, skeletal lyrics woven around meaty beats. The other number to have a video is Wolf, the EP’s closer. It’s very different to the opener in terms of atmosphere, as Foals’ Yannis Philippakis layers on the menace to startling effect. It drones and lurches, almost awkwardly but never without purpose; the end product something like Portishead commissioned to compose a piece exclusively for performance inside an abattoir. Of the offerings between these fine bookends, Seven Waves perhaps stands strongest, with its crystalline crust finally fracturing to spill glorious hooks of shimmering brilliance. But every track is well worth the listener’s full attention.
Ones to watch, certainly, but is Trophy Wife a band with a commercial future? Based on the finer points of this highly promising collection, it’s effortless to picture the trio following fellow townsfolk Foals, and even Radiohead, into the country’s bigger venues and beyond.