I first learned of Montreal group Trips and Falls via a random browse through Song by Toad Records, the offshoot of the Song by Toad blog. The core of the band began with Jacob Romero and Paul Gareau with added vocals from Ashleigh Delaye. Gareau has now been replaced with Ian Langohr, and it seems as though Ashleigh Delaye has a more prominent place in the band line-up. The song that originally gripped me with its shambolic bittersweetness was “Prelude to a Shark Attack” from their 2009 debut album He Was Such a Quiet Boy. The record contained other intriguing song titles and premises like “Breaking Up with My Mormon Missionaries” and “And in Real Life He Wears Corduroy Pants,” and the music veered from an offbeat melancholy to a playful acoustic sound that flirted around the greyer edges of twee. The music could be cinematic in some areas while claustrophobic in others; music box glockenspiel was pitted against noises like malfunctioning technology. In many ways, it seemed like the perfect soundtrack to a mumblecore film. Earlier this year, I was happy to hear that Trips and Falls had produced a sophomore album, People Have to Be Told. Overall, the record feels like an anxiety dream with plenty of relentless, accelerating guitars and drums, and patches of woozy reverb. A motif of secrets recurs whether they’re hidden or exposed, making for a furtive atmosphere with bursts of volatility when the restraint seems to be too much.
Romero’s vocal style is much like The Weakerthans’ John K. Samson, while the music tends to utilize the off-kilter unexpectedness of artists like Simon Bookish and the ambling sinister sound of Timber Timbre. The album begins with “I’ll Do the Dishes, You Do the Laundry,” which swings from ethereal boy-girl duet to harsh dissonance. The second track,”Good People Are Always So Sure They’re Right,” recalls the detached, macabre storytelling of songwriters like frYars. Romero sings of a murdered woman, and through the course of the lackadaisical melody and blood stains on the floor, you discover that she is buried at sunset. Her murderer is eventually executed when exposed by his loquacious tendencies, and the song ends in shredding guitars, which speed up and explode like maniacal laughter. The next song, “I Learned Sunday Morning, on a Wednesday,” is a melodic release of tension with a bouncy romp of a rhythm and fuzzy guitars; it’s a bit of a disorienting jig through reckless, amoral abandon: “There’s no use in trying to scare me, ’cause you know I’m already dead.”
The album takes a delightfully creepy turn once more as Romero’s vocals delve into a grittier, lower register for “Is That My Soul That Calls Upon My Name?” It hints at dark desires and urges, which need to be suppressed under some quasi-religious sense of morality and guilt. The frantic song menaces with pulsing guitars and the dry rattle of snare, circling and circling whilst the narrator debates the unforgivable temptations, which are never named. Delaye joins back in for the stop-start musical dialogue of “Marginally More Than Mildly Annoying.” As she and Romero verbally spar about the state of the relationship, the music dashes about, lunging, feinting, side-stepping. It’s a fun track that sounds like the equivalent to running up and down stairs in a romantic farce. They return to a sparser arrangement with the resigned beat of “That is a Big Door!” The breathy duet feels like the tired frustration of inertia, the inability to understand and to move someone else.
Another duet ensues for the beautiful acoustic ballad, “This is All Going to End Badly.” The vocals push and pull in vulnerable harmony as though seeking reassurance and skirting emotional sabotage. The lyrics ache with a yearning to trust oneself as much as to trust another. The music goes to a dimmer, more distorted place for “Why Should Now Be Normal?” The grungy guitars provide a rumbling dreamscape accented by winks of glockenspiel. “I could tell you everything you want to hear…it’s better if you stay inside.” The album concludes with “That’s What She Said,” a shimmering, hazy duet that sounds haunted. It begins with the cryptic line “I know you better than you think you do/And the only way you’ll get out of this is if you give in.” Ending in a gentle, interwoven vocal round, much like the one in “Prelude to a Shark Attack,” the song is like a heavenly lullaby, but also unsettling. As their vocal lines overlap and repeat, the lyric “The stories that I know would put you to sleep” mesmerizes.
I find the lyrical content on this album to be vaguer than on the debut, and there’s less of the twee naiveté, but some playfulness remains in the song narratives, albeit an often macabre playfulness. The cardboard sleeve of the album displays multiple overlapping silhouettes of people, all of them with one hand to their mouth as though telling a secret; however, there are two people in the centre facing each other, holding each other’s face rather than facing outwards like the rest of the figures, who are whispering into other’s ears or speaking away into the air. Or perhaps they’re shouting. There is both a hushed secrecy and an irrepressible urge to speak in the imagery, playing off the album title. Which people need to be told? The other in an intimate relationship? A stranger in a confessional? The album debates what is latent and silent, what is thought and what is spoken, what is held back and what is revealed. How do you read someone else? How do you explain yourself? How do you get others to define you? The music and lyrics evoke these themes while at the same time conveying a sense of troubled slumber and the honesty of the unguarded moment. With these thoughts in mind, I come back to the first line of the first track of the album: “In the middle of the night, I can hear, hear you breathe, you always say such beautiful things.”