With each new release it appears that Australian "jazz" combo Triosk is attempting to find a clearer and clearer expression of their intent. And their intent--if I assume correctly--is this: evoke a place (inner or outer), a feeling, a mood, and use whatever means necessary (jazz, microhouse, ambient) to do it. Of course, hoards of musicians these days have that same goal and plenty of them succeed. But what Triosk have actually been progressing towards--maybe without them knowing it--is confidence and self-reliance, as they move in a direct line from Jan Jelinek worshippers to a highly unique group in control of their own powers of evocation.
Jelinek was an appropriate enough starting point for the group. Triosk must have admired the way Jelinek pared electronica down to its original click, pop and warm groove blueprint, the way Triosk now turns jazz inside out and jumbles the pieces around to reveal its inner workings. After a collaboration with Jelinek himself on 1+3+1, Triosk set out to make a more singular statement with their first proper full-length, Moment Returns--a record more rooted in jazz than 1+3+1 but still heavily influenced by barely-there, clicks & cuts electronica.
Moment Returns was a fine enough album, tinkling with cracked textures and piano and vibes floating through the mix like an effervescent jazz dream, but it's only upon hearing The Headlight Serenade that Moment Returns feels incomplete. Sure, Moment Returns thrived on subtlety and negative space, but it didn't push as far or try as hard as The Headlight Serenade undoubtedly does. The result is just as complex as their previous work but with more of an emotional punch and less fear of sounding menacing or angry.
Angry? Yes, angry. By the end of the incredible first track, "Visions IV", the rolling, roiling pianos spill over with vengeful rage. It's as pretty and chin-strokingly intellectual as their early music, but now it's something else: blatantly emotional. And, now that it's there, the emotion seems like it may have been the missing element on Moment Returns that could have pushed it into greatness and didn't.
Triosk's stated goal on The Headlight Serenade was to have each song capture a transient moment that exists in life, as a car's headlights would pass over an object during the night. Okay, fine, but these songs sound less like soundtrack pieces and more like an aural documentation of inner turmoil and emotional havoc. The heady buildup in "Lost Broadcast" is pure nervous energy, Triosk style, and near the end of the piece all the instruments reach a fever pitch that would make any good person experiencing this noise go mad.
"Intensives Leben" is the easy trump card here. Bell-like drums skitter in assured firecracker fashion as pianos bleed together and create a trance that's nonetheless incredibly arresting. Though nothing much changes from the beginning of the song to the end except for the key, there is an illusion of buildup and catharsis caused by something that isn't quite perceptible, at least to me. Beautiful, commanding, technically accomplished yet bursting with feeling, "Intensives Leben" is a solid summation of everything Triosk does best on The Headlight Serenade.
If all this talk about emotion and feeling scares you cognoscenti off, don't worry: they haven't totally abandoned the free-jazz tendencies that quietly made "Chronosynclastic Infundibula" the best thing on Moment Returns. The back half of The Headlight Serenade is more formless than its front, and while "One, Twenty-Four" and the very long "Lazyboat" feel like a blatant retread of the past, something has inexplicably improved. Maybe they focused a little harder, or maybe they stopped being so fussy about all those darned electronics and just went with the flow. Maybe it doesn't really matter.
The album misses classic status only because of the last track, "Fear Survivor". It's an amateur grunge bass riff followed by dopey Kid 606-lite electro breaks followed by a very dull solo piano lullaby. It's something resembling punkish anarchy that would have been easier to swallow were it not reminiscent of a dumb kid taking a rusty scissors to Triosk's more archetypal music, and as such it's a slap in the face to the band's admirers. Leave off "Fear Survivor", however, and The Headlight Serenade becomes a statement of purpose gracefully made manifest--the result of goals fully realized and fleshed out. And oh so listenable, too.