Sunday, May 13, 2007
The shakily pensive lyric "There's no emotion" on the opening song "Nothing Left To Say" does not even come close to being a persuasive sentiment; Tram's debut album, Heavy Black Frame, is plenty emotional, and all the better for that heart-on-sleeve, lump-in-throat quality. The band comes on like a somewhat less fey Belle & Sebastian fronted by a less strangulated but equally expressive Thom Yorke. Actually Paul Anderson's vocals sound as if they could be expatriated from an '80s New Romantic band, affected but not to the point of parodic, sullen but not off-puttingly so. He aches, and his band aches gorgeously with him through songs full of questioning, uncertainty, and insecurity, most of it revoloving around relationships. Musically Tram reaches far beyond wispy pop, pulling off bits of drugged, somnolent jazz ("Expectations"), intense balladry, instrumental ambience ("Like Clockwork"), even some twangless country on "When It's All Over." Everything seems to take place at half-pace, and rightly so, because the pace mirrors the nature of the music and sentiments. It is form following function, and the end is music that seems suspended and dangling in mid-air, otherworldly and mesmerizing but also entirely romantic and genuine. Heavy Black Frame is no exercise in understatement or melancholia for the sake of it; the album is intimate and consuming-a catharsis-and the songs are gorgeous in their quiet poignancy. They are not straining to be heard and understood, but they are so heartrending and shimmeringly gentle that they are easy to care about.