Whichever angle it is viewed from, whether a 20,000-strong sing-along throng in Melbourne, through the smoggy haze of West Hollywood or from the window of Dougy Mandagi’s flat overlooking the riot zone in Hackney, The Temper Trap’s 2009 debut ‘Conditions’ was a roar away success. Propelled by the omniscience of a song called ‘Sweet Disposition’, the album sold nearly a million copies worldwide. The Melbourne four-piece made a breakthrough at odds with the flash-in-the-pan nature of rock’s revolving door, resulting in a Brit nomination for International Breakthrough Artist and two sell-out UK tours including a trio of shows at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire. ‘Sweet Disposition’ may have been their not-so-secret weapon, but they backed it up with an album of nuanced epic-pop perfection and a work ethic that would mean they wouldn’t see their own beds for the best part of three years.
Dougy Mandagi (vocals, guitar), Lorenzo Sillitto (guitar), Jonny Aherne (bass) and Toby Dundas (drums) had barely relocated from Melbourne to London when they made a tour bus their home-from-home. They’d arrived in 2009 as a band wet behind the ears but armed with songs fit to headline festivals and an ambition that was keen on getting them there. Having recorded ‘Conditions’ with Arctic Monkeys producer Jim Abbiss, their debut was released in August 2009 and what followed was an extensive period of intensive, relentless touring that only ended at the beginning of 2011.
And so, it was in these triumphant circumstances that The Temper Trap, now bolstered to a five-piece with the permanent addition of Joseph Greer on keyboards, reconvened after a shorter-than-expected holiday to begin work on their second album. With minimal writing having taken place amidst the whirlwind of the Conditions’ touring cycle, the band entered sessions for album two with a clean slate and little idea of what would surface. Mandagi, though, was aware he had little control over what the main lyrical themes would entail.
What emerges is their self-titled second album, a record of two distinct personalities, one of melancholic, mesmeric balladry and one of synth-led, anthemic powerhouse pop. Their trick isn’t that perfunctory, though; most songs on ‘The Temper Trap’ see the band’s two disparate sides bleed into each other. So, the fuzzy stomp of ‘Need Your Love’ appears to be a stadium-slaying cocksure sing-along but is in fact underpinned with lost soul yearning, whilst ‘Dreams’ should be a slow-burning album track but is in fact loaded with one of the record’s hookiest choruses. Wonderful contradictions spring up all over the place; ‘I’m Gonna Wait’, a song recorded after repeated listens to the last Zola Jesus record, is a brooding slow snarl that has a celestial chant at its core, ‘Rabbit Hole’ is an intimate, solemn vignette that explodes in a frenzied, euphoric climax and ‘Trembling Hands’ is swirling fire’n’brimstone alt-rock.