There are, obviously, a thousand different reasons anyone Listens To Music – curiosity, escapism and pre-drinking stimulation among them – but it wouldn’t be a reach to assume that one of the main ones is to have something significant articulated on your behalf. We put a lot of stock in the music we love, because we often decide for ourselves what it’s about. We process songs the same way we try to relate to strangers, by offering up a bit of ourselves. Even the most straightforward narratives have all the feelings and memories you’ve come to associate with them squished between the lines. In short: we take listening to music very seriously. So it throws a stick in the works when the music in question is sort of taking the piss out of itself – and, by extension, you.
Trust Fund is a rotating cast of musicians spearheaded by Ellis Jones, who responded to their track “Would that be an adventure?” being played on Frank Ocean’s blondedRADIO last year by saying “my use of autotune has been validated at the highest level. Another genre mastered." As a band, they have a knack for balancing sentimentality with humour in various self-effacing ways that make the listener feel better about feeling bad. On their latest and final album, though (more on that later), Trust Fund’s typically inward-turning lens has fractured kaleidoscope-like into an autopsy of ‘musicianship: the concept of’.
Bringing The Backline is an album about making music and having feelings and struggling with both. Sonically speaking, you could throw references like Belle and Sebastian, Fevers and Mirrors-era Bright Eyes, Nick Drake, Weezer and Big Star into the mix and they would all have a lifespan of a few seconds before falling short. Lyrically, the pre-order advisory promised it would touch upon the “now-classic TF themes of listlessness, disavowal, and the fetishisation of regret, with details specific enough to feel frank and confessional, yet non-specific enough to allow for the listener to substitute in their own life experiences.” On the surface, Bringing The Backline feels like a mic drop from someone who has absolutely had it – someone who kind of hates music and has responded by making a really, really, really good album about it.
There is some truth to that. “Blue X” is a clinical dissection of going to or playing gigs, eventually weighing what should be a meaningful activity up with “we waste our time together or we waste our time alone”. “Jonathan” opens with the line “Oh I borrowed your guitar to write the worst song in the world”, while “Embarrassing!” sees the narrator shrugging off someone asking what music they should listen to while running with a repeated “I don’t know” followed by a throwaway “Pavement, maybe”. Little interruptions are peppered throughout – fragments of conversation, a cough, laughter – which prevent you from fully settling into your own bubble by reminding you of the context in which it was made, which has nothing to do with you. In some ways Bringing The Backline resists our tendencies to treat music as a canvas to be projected onto, which can make it feel as though you’re being kept at arm’s length. The counterpoint is that it actually beckons you closer than you might like to get.
A Pitchfork review of the album describes Trust Fund’s music as “highbrow comic rock meant to make you feel clever and discerning”, but to me it feels the opposite. Bringing The Backline is self-referential but the humour is often a veil for sincerity, not the absence of it. There are flashes of uncomfortable truths on tracks like “Embarrassing!”, where the narrator doesn’t move from bed for 11 hours, doesn’t seem to have much left to give to those around them, and apologises with a self-mocking chorus of “there can’t be many like me out there!” There are some fairly savage remarks like "I hold my friends as I hold myself in cold disregard" across the board that many of us think fleetingly but rarely document with any sort of permanence. Finally, any semblance of guard comes down on “Abundant”, which opens the floodgates on a past relationship before unravelling into a end-of-film-credits style flurry of clarinets. Those interruptions – the fragments of conversation, the cough, the laughter – could also be read as gestures of intimacy.
The greatest feat of Bringing The Backline is that you’re never really certain where the boundaries are between honesty and humour. If you’re prone to feeling confused and weird, trapped in a double bind of having a lot of emotions and an aversion to being earnest, Bringing The Backline is confirmation of that tension. With great self-awareness comes great knowledge of your own limitations, so at a push I’d say it’s good old fashioned indie rock meant for depressed people who don’t know anything (hi).
It’s difficult to sit comfortably among question marks, which is why explainer culture seems to be in overdrive at the moment, but for an album ostensibly About Music the point seems to be that it’s more interrogative than it is certain. As a parting note, Trust Fund leave us still questioning how much of yourself to give away and how much to hold back. Where do you factor into your own work and, once it’s in the hands of other people, how much of it is still yours at all. It's stripping away the face musicians sometimes have to save publicly in order to maintain the illusion of the project, when behind the scenes the love we'd like to assume is there wholeheartedly is often offset by disillusionment.
Trust Fund called it quits “for various non-dramatic reasons” shortly after announcing the album, and ultimately it ends as the project began – with Ellis playing the guitar on his own, and signing off with a laugh.
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