Recording information: Stassney Studios, Austin, Texas.
After the underground success of their self-titled debut, which went through several pressings on multiple formats, Austin darkwave trio Troller swapped a bandmember and took their sound in a heavier direction on their sophomore album, Graphic. Their first album's artwork seemed to suggest that they were some sort of mystical doom metal outfit, and while they haven't quite become a metal band yet, there's a significant doom element to this album, especially to the droning bass guitars. Vocalist Amber Goers' vocals are much more powerful on this album than on the group's debut; while they seemed like a shadowy, ethereal blur before, they're more up front here. Rather than being merely haunting, they're downright piercing here, often ending up in fits of cathartic shrieking, with the conclusion of "Sundowner" sounding particularly painful. She comes close to channeling early Siouxsie Sioux or Elizabeth Fraser in a similar manner to how North Carolina band Ashrae Fax did on their excellent debut album. Unlike the first Troller album, the lyrics on Graphic are audible, and they express the emptiness that was only hinted at before. Goers states "I wanna know what it's like to feel nothing" on standout "Nothing," and begging "please don't go" and "if you take this, I die" on the dramatic "Not Here." As with the first album, there are a few ambient drone interludes, but there are more proper songs on this one, and some of them are the poppiest tunes they've written yet. In the middle of the album, the group breaks from harsher material for the stunning "Storm Maker," a heartbreaking lament about facing an uncertain future that seems to explore a sort of heaven/hell duality. The album ends with Troller's most epic composition to date, the eight-minute "Torch," which gradually builds up tense, percolating synthesizers and occasionally lapses into faster beats. The track is graced by a nearly operatic vocal performance, and it ends up somewhere between goth and Italo-disco. Even more ambitious than their astounding debut, Graphic confirms Troller's place as one of the best dark synthesizer-based groups of their era. ~ Paul Simpson