Credit: Darla Records
by Michael Doub Music Obscure Object

Sweet Trip | A Tiny House, In Secret Speeches, Polar Equals

July 14, 2021

Sweet Trip’s first album in over a decade builds upon the band’s typical aesthetic while blending that sound to produce the group’s most coherent release to date.

In certain corners of the music-listening internet, the release of the first new Sweet Trip album in over a decade is an event on the scale of a hypothetical Portishead reunion, or any of the actual returns in the last decade from message board favorites like The Avalanches, Duster, or Hum. At different points existing as a trio and quartet, and now a duo, the group released three albums over a 12-year span that received niche acclaim for their audacious collages of various sub-genres within electronic and indie rock, with Sweet Trip’s warmest moments resembling the tasteful repose of Stereolab, and their chilliest in line with the techno-futurisms of late ‘90s IDM. The group has been mostly quiet since their last LP, 2009’s You Will Never Know Why, and the following decade was certainly kind to these aforementioned contemporaries, all of whom toured and released long-awaited new material that appeared in step with an updated indie music climate. A Tiny House, in Secret Speeches, Polar Equals, the new Sweet Trip album, arrives nominally on-trend with these other returns, though — in keeping with the singularity of the band’s artistic project — still existing outside modes and scenes, its main points of comparison the stylistically expansive (if quantitatively limited) Sweet Trip discography itself.

Fortunately, the group’s oeuvre encompasses at least half a dozen different genres and sub-genres, so this is by no means a scant sonic palette. Where previous Sweet Trip albums occupied a more distinct aesthetic perch — like the glacial terrains of Halica: Bliss Out v.11 or the dark-night-of-the-soul dream pop of You Will Never Know Why — Tiny House instead provides a more holistic blend of blends, synthesizing the sounds of the group’s earlier releases into their most direct, linear batch of songs to date. Album opener and title track “Tiny House” begins with an ecstatic, characteristic glitch breakdown that leads into a restrained synth-driven groove, escalating and de-escalating in intensity over enough movements to fairly qualify the song as prog. Many of the tracks in the album’s first half follow similar paths, beginning as ballads and eventually building to power ballad status, with warm synths leading the way and the more eccentric tonalities tucked into the background right until they can no longer be contained. “Eave Foolery Mill Five” and “Snow Purple Treasures” are quality examples of this form, as is “Chapters,” on which clean, insistent guitars are upended by cascading digital percussion that overwhelms the song and carries it into a desolate, affecting strummed outro.

Tiny House’s back half is more varied in shape, offering a mix of song-length exercises (the bright, buzzing instrumentals “Randlift” and “Zafire Melts the Heart in Modulation”) and some of the album’s more direct cuts, like its lone single “Walkers Beware! We Drive into the Sun.” If there’s perhaps a sense that the group’s creative summit is less consistently reached in these shorter excursions, and more broadly in the context of this more streamlined revival, it remains a unique pleasure to hear new music from Sweet Trip at all. Certainly, it’s hard to begrudge the band a more approachable release in this moment when their return seemed so improbable, with the album itself serving as something of a monument to two friends resuming communication after losing touch for some years. The back-to-back pyrotechnics that arrive on Tiny House’s last two songs, “Polar Equals” and “At Last a Truth That is Real,” return the group to the broader canvas on which their talents are most awe-inspiring, delivering fuzzed-out guitars and emotional bombast worthy of M83. Though moments like these appear less frequently on Tiny House than albums past, their scale and scope remain uniquely Sweet Trip, in presence as in absence an island unto themselves.

Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2021 | Part 2.