Personal Best by TRAAMS album review by Adam Williams. The band's full-length drops on July 22, via FatCat Records and DSPs

FatCat Records

7.7

TRAMMS

Personal Best

“I couldn’t really write, and I didn’t have the motivation to do anything musical. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pick up a guitar for 2 years” confesses Stuart Hopkins, vocalist/guitarist of TRAAMS, when ruminating on the group’s seven-year gap between records. However, 2019 saw the trio (completed by (Leigh Padley (bass) and Adam Stock (drums)) reconvene on demos that they had had lying around for some time. Towards the end of that year and into 2020 TRAAMS felt the momentum return to their creative process only for it to be halted by, well, we all know, don’t we?!

Bouncing between lockdowns and Covid-restrictions the three piece did what they could to keep the fires burning on their earlier productive sessions that would eventually become their third LP ‘Personal Best’. Seemingly the challenges of navigating a pandemic and the limitations that come with it fed into the album’s DNA. Due to their studio space being in a residential area, TRAAMS could only play and record at night, and at a hushed volume “we had to re-learn how to play together” confesses Hopkins. “It was really quiet and considered, whereas before it always been obnoxiously loud. All the things we’d usually relied upon – bass, drums locking in, guitar feedback, shouted words – were no longer applicable in this new way of writing. After our initial reservations, it was incredibly inspiring and freeing."

‘Personal Best’ is an evolution of circumstances for TRAAMS and one that the band fully embraced; whether that’s Hopkins adopting a softer vocal tone or Stock opting to ply his trade via drum machines and guitars rather than tethered to his actual drum kit. Another defining feature is the roster of guest vocalists that appear throughout the album, with Softlizard (Liza Violet of Menace Beach’s new project) appearing on two tracks, Protomartyr frontman Joe Casey doing his demented preacher thing on ‘The Light at Night’ and Soffie Viemose lending her dulcet tones to ‘Sleeper’.

Perhaps as you would expect for an album conceived at night and the band not wanting to upset their neighbours, 'Personal Best' deploys an atmospheric tone, one that slithers and crawls with a slender post-punk gait. ‘Sirens’, the record’s opener, manoeuvres at a glacial pace as gentle electronic pulses convey a melancholic calm before ‘Dry’s gauzy, rusted groove follows in its slipstream. Its evident the jagged edges of previous releases are still present albeit with the craggiest ends slightly smoothed over to provide a textured, less acerbic delivery. With Hopkins’ opting for softer vocals, sometimes it’s hard to discern what the frontman is communicating, as some of the time his voice gets lost amongst the clouds of feedback and the marginally dulled metallic nuances. The most prominent lyric is attributed to Casey’s inclusion on ‘The Light at Night’ when you hear the Protomartyr man bellow “kill the body and the head dies” as a crescendo of intense noise peaks and then descends into a wall of fuzz. When Hopkins’ delivery pokes up above the din of ‘Personal Best’ you pick up titbits such as “we’re strangers/but it feels like we’re meant to be” on ‘Shields’ fragmented soundscape or “I know there’s no greater love than me” on the post-punk minimalism of ‘Hallie’. Even when it’s difficult to decipher Hopkins’ lyrics at times, the melodies created when combined with Violet and Viemose manifests a pleasing tone when offset against some of the more nebulous and awkward moments found on ‘Personal Best’.

“A lot of this record is about recognising yourself. This record is about the little changes we make, and the milestones we achieve in the process” states Hopkins on ‘Personal Best’s overarching ethos and it’s evident that the time apart and the unpredictable advent of Covid helped reset and inspire the next chapter in TRAAMS’ story.

Pre-order Personal Best by TRAAMS HERE