One of the hardest things to do is to write a review of an album which you do not have strong feelings about either way. I have approached Temper Trap’s Conditions from several angles and feel extremely ambivalent about it. When my esteemed colleague suggested this album for review, my thought was: “Oh, I think I got that album when it first came out; let me check my library.” Never a good sign. The band is extremely talented and they put together a musically sound album, yet I am glad to be done with the review so I can take it off my iPod. I need to make room for Sufjan Stevens (that’s right, Sufjan, I am going to feel the Illinoise!). I think the best way to describe my take on this album is “underwhelmingly remarkable.”1
It was easy to miss the release of Temper Trap’s Conditions when it came out in 2009; there was little fanfare other than “Sweet Disposition” appearing in the indie film (500) Days of Summer and then in a Diet Coke commercial last year. Don’t let either their relative anonymity in the US or selling their songs to commercial outlets sway you from giving Conditions a listen. Maybe you’ll find more enjoyment out of it than I did.
There are few things in life better than when you purchase an album based on one song you’ve heard and the rest of the songs do not disappoint. The other side of that coin is the album when you say “I would have loved to only pay $0.99 for this song, but my OCD need to have an entire album in my library is overriding logic.” Conditions in this coin analogy is the coin landing on its side: a mix of other good tracks and others that I would prefer to skip over.
The guitars and drums drive the songs through a curved mountain road of emotion, and have great moments like the end of “Resurrection” and “Soldier On.” They set off a groove and leave me wanting more, but those moments are few and far between, as the rest of the guitars tend to be light and airy. Lead vocalist, Dougy Mandagi, works his vocal range and falsettos very well, and sings with enough soul and emotion which seems to lack in a lot of new indie rock.2
The content of the lyrics are confusing, however; many are meandering words that do not seem to make a lot of sense sitting next to each other. I know music lyrics could be defined as poetic, but that implies mastery of language.3 Lines such as “ooh… lady, you took your soul, and left you out to dry, scarred” give me the impression Mandagi took some refrigerator poetry, put them in a plastic cup and rolled “Yahtzee.” This could explain why one of my favorite tracks on this album is the aptly titled all-instrumental “Drum Song.”
My overall take on Conditions is it is wonderful background music – just not enough to hook me in. It would make a great soundtrack for your life if you wanted your life to be a light indie film romantic comedy. Conditions certainly has its moments musically, and I would encourage you to give it a listen and decide for yourself. As for the lyrics, try to tune them out or take advice from “Soldier On.”
Don’t think about it at all.