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Trust Fund - Bringing the Backline Music Album Reviews


If Bristol-based songwriter Ellis Jones’ witty yet melancholy final album as Trust Fund has an overarching theme, it’s how deeply disenchanted he feels with making music.

How witty is Ellis Jones? Here is how the Bristol-based songwriter describes Bringing the Backline, his latest album as Trust Fund, in a wry effort to mitigate the “risk inherent in committing to the purchase of a somewhat unknown quantity,” while exhorting fans to pre-order: It contains “details specific enough to feel frank and confessional, yet non-specific enough to allow for the listener to substitute in their own life experiences.” This is a succinct and accurate description of, well, art. A pithy bon mot that both touches on some essential truth and self-deprecatingly trivializes it is Trust Fund’s trademark. Ellis Jones is very witty—perhaps too witty for his own good.

Like Art Brut and to some extent Weezer, Trust Fund is a pop-rock band too self-aware and self-reflexive to ever seem entirely in earnest. This is not a shortcoming; it’s what makes the music droll and amusing, and what endears Jones as a comedian eager to invite you in on the joke. He shares with Rivers Cuomo the inclination to play against frontman type, dwelling on his weaknesses instead of adopting the traditional rock-star swagger as he exaggerates his dweebiness for ironic effect. Fond of recherche constructions (“Essay not upon the self uncovered/But document the work of others”) and naming songs after lauded novelists (“Carson McCullers”), he has the literary zeal of an unapologetic intellectual like Colin Meloy. Trust Fund is highbrow comic rock meant to make you feel clever and discerning.

Jones likes a good quip—his lyrics often turn on a witticism or humorous observation—but his writing tends toward the dry and is rarely what you would call jokey. He has a strong command of tone; his eye for detail is almost novelistic in its keenness. “I was boastful, I was boring, we were queuing for the toilet/In the cramped corridor of your friend’s house,” he sings on “King of CM.” “You took a picture of me for your girls in the group chat/And now I want to tell all my secrets to you.” The same group chat reappears, with more urgency, elsewhere: “All her messages I would read aloud/But the girls in the group chat, they alone can help her now.” It’s just as Jones promised: equal parts confessional and nonspecific.

A shadow of melancholy hangs over the droll vignettes on Bringing the Backline—a certain low-level distress or anguish about which Jones remains characteristically sardonic. “Got that sad Sunday suicidal ideation eight days a week,” he sings with a kind of mordant gaiety on album opener “Blue X.” “And listening to your band/Crying at the back/Made me think about my band/How boring is that?” A song called “Embarrassing!,” meanwhile, is a rousing, Pavement-ish indie rock anthem about depression. Breakups are lamented, until they aren’t: “I can’t remember why we broke up… Oh yeah/Of course I do.” Feelings verge on the sentimental, until irony cuts in: “One thing a song can do/Is tell you with a terrible sureness/Exactly who your heart belongs to… Not that it can belong to anyone.”

Shortly after Bringing the Backline’s release, Jones announced that “for various non-dramatic reasons” it would be Trust Fund’s final record. For anyone who’d listened to the album, the news would hardly be surprising. If these songs have an overarching theme, it’s how deeply disenchanted Jones feels with making music. Sometimes this sentiment has the wistful quality of reminiscence. Other times, he sounds as if he’s accepting defeat. Occasionally his lyrics convey nothing short of despair.

In the end, though, he can’t help but reflect on his time as Trust Fund with wit and good humor: “The best thing about touring is a week in a van with your friends,” he kids on “King of CM.” “The worst thing about touring is a week in a van with your best friends.” You get the sense that however badly Jones may miss life in the studio and on the road, he will miss these opportunities for dry punchlines and trenchant witticisms more than anything.

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