When London-based quintet the Temper Trap broke through with "Sweet Disposition" three years ago, they were the archetypical band behind the curtain. While their song was inescapable-featured in (500) Days of Summer, appearing in TV spots, charting around the world-the band had been busy hustling in their native Australia, heads down, perfecting their panoramic brand of impassioned rock in relative anonymity. That changed very quickly, and after a breathless run of festivals and touring-now that we know these five as the charming and upbeat lads that they are-the band is back with their most epic, adventurous, emotive and personal work yet, titled, quite naturally, The Temper Trap.
"Conditions is like a little time capsule of where we were when we started out," says drummer Toby Dundas of their 2009 breakthrough. "We didn't realize how far it would take us. It's been an amazing ride the last few years, but we're eager to get back out there, to show people who we are now."
Aided by producer Tony Hoffer (M83, Beck, Phoenix), and recording for the first time with their touring keyboardist turned minted member Joseph Greer, this new Temper Trap comes with all of the soaring vocals, triumphant guitars, and buoyant drums you'd expect, but their sound is emboldened by a veritable arsenal of analog synthesizers and inventive electronic textures. While recording at the legendary Sound Factory in Los Angeles (Brian Wilson, Jackson 5, the Vines), the band pushed themselves at every turn, stopping to ask the question, "How can we make this sound more modern, more interesting?"
But the new album's creative core was born months before in, of all places, a tiny village in southern Spain. Looking for a safe space away from the distractions and dour weather of London-their home since 2008-singer Dougy Mandagi, guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto, bassist Jonathan Aherne, Dundas, and Greer found a house in the ancient Moorish stronghold of Montefrío.
"We turned the place upside down," says Dougy with a laugh, " turned it into a proper studio space. We stacked the furniture up in the hallways so we could set up all of our gear in the living room, which had this double-high ceiling. The sound of the room really influenced the breadth of the songs." Lorenzo jumps in: "We didn't tell the landlord what we were doing, so when he came around every few days to clean the leaves out of the pool, we'd rush to lock up all the doors and block the windows."
Before heading to Hollywood and hooking up with Hoffer, the Temper Trap returned to England where they stumbled upon an unexpected source of inspiration: the riots of the summer of 2011. "I live a stone's throw away from where the action was," says Dougy. "We all do, actually. I'd gone out to the corner store the afternoon before and the guy behind the counter warned me: 'Stay inside, man. It's about to get rough.' All of a sudden there were helicopters everywhere, people in the streets, fires. It exploded."
Witnessing all of that chaotic strife firsthand gave birth to the song "London's Burning," an instant album standout infused with angular energy and a hint of raw Clash skank as Dougy poses the poignant query, "Will tomorrow come for a man stuck in the line?" Similarly populist themes emerge on the quavering elegiac beauty, "Rabbit Hole," and even the rich, Morrissey-evoking "The Sea is Calling," which explores the big question-why are we here?-over shimmering keys and evocative guitars.
In a lot of ways, The Temper Trap is about moving forward whether or not the answers come easily. For Dougy, this last point hits close to home. "I went through a breakup while we were in the middle of touring," he says. "It actually felt great to exorcise that in a lot of these songs. Like 'Trembling Hands.' That's literally me going back to scenes of my past life, smelling the air and taking in the surroundings. It was a surreal experience. I hope people can see the honesty in the work."
The album takes listeners through the gamut of human emotions. While the gloriously anthemic single "Need Your Love" pines for a feminine ideal and the falsetto-strewn "Miracle" paints love as "a little seed [that] will grow into a tree," the burbling bounce of "Where Do We Go From Here?" scores its protagonist's attempts to move on, and the stormy, robotic funk of "Never Again" finds Dougy further on down the road, okay on his own, no longer yearning for a relationship that reached its end.
It's fitting then, that the Temper Trap's exquisitely crafted sophomore album closes with a song called "Leaving Heartbreak Hotel." Here, a striking mix of piano, bass, and beat builds to an epic swell kicked off by the lyric: "Oh my friends, when can I see you all again?" In this moment, the camera cranes back and the deeply personal and occasionally dark becomes both universal and filled with hope. Welcome to The Temper Trap, friends. We hope you'll stay awhile.