Review: All Your Sisters — Trust Ruins
All my sisters? Yes, even the one who drinks Diet Dr. Pepper in her sweatpants while watching reruns of The Golden Girls.
This is the year of All Your Sisters‘ arrival, friends. They’ve been around for a while now, but I never quite understood why until now. Over the course of two previous albums, they were scratching at the very same itch that has taken the world of dark underground music by storm (by “they”, I mean “Jordan Morrison”, who appears to be the only full-time member of the project; and by “itch”, I mean “the goth revival”). And until recently, it sounded to me like the precise epicenter of that itch eluded them. Prior albums Modern Failures (2013) and Uncomfortable Skin (2014) were guitar-and-casio-beat-heavy affairs that suffered from thin production while falling short of compelling ideas.
Trust Ruins is a triumph by comparison (any comparison will do). Putting my finger on why, though, has caused some gnashing of the teeth, some soul-searching, and also the delay of this review. There is a depth to All Your Sisters’ new album that is at once immediately apparent and difficult to masticate. It sounds like Morrison is awake now, truly thinking about what he is doing as opposed to sleepwalking through black and white post-punk dreams or huffing the fumes of goth-industrial’s obsolescence. Or like he is finally allowing his rich inner world to bleed freely into the sonic sphere instead of using music as an emotional tourniquet. A brief reflection on the flow of Trust Ruins will, I hope, explain what any of this means.
Curiously — even precariously — the album opens with a triptych of relatively chill, somber tunes, beginning with the cinematic synths of “A Factory of Unpleasant Dreams”, continuing on into the laconic beats and half-drunk caterwauling of “Window”, and wrapping up with the beat-deprived crooning of “A Demon Left the Door Open”. All together, these pieces form a bold move that announces the synth-heavy progression of Trust Ruins while risking the alienation of a listener hungry for those hard-edged beats. The beats will come, I promise, but let us linger here for a while to discuss the harvest that Morrison’s increased hunger and confidence has reaped. For one, the newfound dramatic range of his vocals brings a wealth of emotional dynamics: Here he digs deep into his chest to find the most disgusting noises he can make, as if to signal a sort of proud resignation to failure; there he seeps mournful melodies penned for all those who never requited his love.
Perhaps the one new trick that these tracks conceal in their lush dramaturgy is Morrison’s understanding of the difference between catchiness that is simple and that which is merely cheap. On fourth track “Your Way”, which obliterates the mood built painstakingly by the previous three tracks (the beats, at last, the beats), all the deceptive simplicity in the world cannot hobble the overriding grandeur. You’ve heard all of these sounds before, most of them back in the 1980s, and yet somehow they sound much less used. Every time I spin this track I imagine an alternate timeline in which Nine Inch Nails eschewed stylistic progression beyond Pretty Hate Machine in favor of just getting darker and more angry. This sentiment carries across much of the album, where shades of Skinny Puppy fraternize with wisps of Twitch-era-Ministry, all of it buttressed by decisively modern takes on disappointment, desire, and the tension that always unites the two.
To be explicit, what this means is that Trust Ruins is going to give you a lot of retro drum machining and a lot of the staccato synth-bass hammering and a lot of barking vocals that might make you think of Prong, but also a lot of gorgeous washed-out tremolos and a lot of recklessly heartfelt singing and a decent smattering of piano. There’s no real dead air on this album, although there are certainly highlights — including, thankfully, the closer, “The Deceiver”, which channels Duran Duran at their darkest and bows out with one of the most infectious piano lines I’ve heard in a while.
Despite its achievements, Trust Ruins is ultimately a huge nostalgia trip. It is thoroughly enjoyable and yet, for many listeners, may never eek its way out of the shadow of those ancient albums to which it pays homage. If nothing else, perhaps it is a sign that All Your Sisters has found its voice and is ready, at last, to give this world what’s coming to it.