trust-joyland[xrr rating=4.0/5]Sometimes a loss turns out to be a gain. Such is the case for Toronto’s darkwave outfit Trust—once a duo until shortly after their 2012 debut, when the act was reduced to a one-man show. The superlative Joyland arrives as the fruit of Robert Alfons’s labors alone, as former cohort Maya Postepski split to focus her considerable production prowess on her day job, fellow Toronto-based synthpop band Austra. But the downsize has allowed the shadowy Trust to spread inky black tendrils out from the catacombs where the act’s gothic-influenced debut dwelled. At times, Joyland even seems to reach for the stars.

In interviews, Alfons has admitted that debut TRST never broke out of the one gloomy mood he’d set out to create. Joyland eclipses his first effort by working as a continuation of that sound while exploring sonic terrain more freely. Early on, you get the sense that Alfons is still stretching out and testing the full reaches of his newfound creative evolution. This exploration has transcendent moments, though it’s not until the tracks that are more distinctly within Trust’s wheelhouse that the album coalesces into a must-listen.

Opener “Slightly Floating” begins more like a Danny Elfman score, with haunting ooo-ing and gentle ethereal synths slowly giving over to Alfons’ versatile voice (starting in his distinctive baritone and eventually pitching up to elflike falsetto). As with most Trust songs, the words are difficult to make out, and utterly beside the point—they’re simply another texture in Alfons’ expanding aural palette. “Geryon” injects more industrial heft at times, but the fuzzy synth melody is positively upbeat. And were it not for deep baritone vocals, “Capitol” could almost sound like early MGMT, or Crystal Castles on downers. Title track “Joyland” is Trust at its catchiest pop, a distinctly ‘80s drum machine fueling this fluffy dancefloor confection with Alfons singing in a munchkin-ized register that could go toe-to-toe with those in Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead.”

Throughout the album’s first half, it’s as if Trust is pressing upwards, not floating so much as propulsively spiraling toward the sun. That makes centerpiece “Icabod” more of an Icarus, as it marks a steep dive back toward the shadows of terra firma. Brooding and dark, “Icabod” ditches anything celestially minded and plunges into danceable gloom, churning along and cloaking itself in goth influences and another dose of retro ‘80s drum machine. From there, “Four Gut” opens with a chunky tubular synth effect and pounding drumbeat that could serve as a national anthem for sewer-dwelling mole people. First single “Rescue, Mister” continues in this vein, all scuzz and throb and skitter, Alfons’ deep voice cutting with a sharper edge before giving itself over to curious falsetto cooing like a childlike split personality manifesting. By the time this song hits, we’ve completed our descent, and there’s the overwhelming sense that some bad shit’s about to go down.

But after this triad of danceable darkness, Alfons veers the record once again, regaining the more glistening synth work, without completely abandoning the darkwave that had thus far been Trust’s meal ticket. “Lost Souls/Eelings” is a song full of artful contrasts, while “Peer Pressure” picks up on the tempo into an almost video game pace. “Barely” fittingly closes things out with what feels like just a sip from every one of Joyland’s many potions before drifting us out into the ether.

Trust didn’t need reinvention following Postepski’s departure, but the intrepid Alfons could have easily rested on his laurels until he got his solo artist footing. Joyland makes it clear that the dazzling TRST was no fluke, and also that it was merely a jumping off point. Whether he’s soaring or plumbing the depths, Alfons is broadening his reach, honing his craft and pressing onward through light and shadows to a place where only he can take us.

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