Feb 15, 2015

Trophies, Luxury’s First Album in a Decade, Is a Brilliant & Bracing Return to Form (Review)

Regardless of why Luxury released a new album after a decade, I’m glad they did; simply put, Trophies contains the best music I’ve ever heard from them.

Trophies, Luxury
Reviewed…

Trophies by Luxury

I’m not sure why they decided to do it. Maybe to prove they still could after a decade of absence. Maybe there were still songs rattling around inside of them, even though they now live in different states and have vastly different occupations. Or maybe they just missed the spark that happens when you get in a room with your friends, pick up some instruments, and let the Spirit flow. But regardless of why Luxury recorded a new album after all these years, I’m very glad they did. Simply put, Trophies contains the best music I’ve ever heard from them.

The past ten years have been very kind to Luxury; their music has never been tighter, fuller, or more intense than it is here. Consider Lee Bozeman’s vocals. Yes, he still sounds like Thom Yorke covering Morrissey (or is it the other way around?), but time has lent him both grit and subtlety, and his singing is all the better for it. He navigates sometimes twisty, convoluted lyrics — Example: “A television set/We couldn’t count the hours/’Cos now the teacher speaks/From ‘inside a pornographer’s trousers’” — with ease. When he lets loose a bit, as he does on “Parallel Love“‘s chorus and the slow-burning “The War on Women,” his croon is effortless, soaring. And in Trophies’ slower moments, like the piano-and-strings ballad “Words of Mouth,” his singing is frail, barely rising above a whisper.

And about those twisty lyrics: part of the fun of a Luxury album is attempting to unpack and decipher the oft-cryptic lyrics, which are full of sketches and impressions. Trophies is no different. Still, certain themes seem rather prevalent. There are hints of spiritual struggles — not too surprising, given that three of Luxury’s members are Orthodox priests and another one a former theology professor. Meanwhile, “The War on Women” could easily be a bitter rumination on youthful lust and shame.

Love, too, is a recurring theme: protective love for families, the heady innocence of first love, love for unbelievers. As Trophies winds down with “The Gates of Paradise (Give Praise Where Praise Is Due),” several of these themes come to a head. At one point, Bozeman wonders, “Do I feel love where I used to feel hate?” Later, he admits “‘Cos unbelievers are strange/I loved a few, I remember their names/And you still think if they just had a taste/But they won’t.” Sounds like something a priest might write while wrestling with how to serve the skeptics around him. It’s therefore interesting that the song ends with Bozeman intoning “For awhile, everything was okay.” Such words may hint at resignation but they also evoke resolution and trust.

Musically, Trophies roars. A heavier Smiths is how I’ve often described Luxury in the past, but such a description seems lacking now. “Parallel Love” and “You Must Change Your Life” launch out of the starting gate and never stop to look back. At the same time, there’s a complexity and lushness ‘neath the intensity, thanks to the band’s triple guitar set-up. On “Museums In Decline,” you can hear all sorts of interplay and flourishes via the six-string work by Bozeman, his brother Jamey, and Matt Hinton. (Lately, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to ambient and electronic music, so it’s refreshing to hear a guitar-centric album as excellent as Trophies.)

Recent years have seen a number of long-absent artists reemerge from the mists of time. There’s the resurgence of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and others from the shoegaze old guard. The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus have a new album coming out soon. D’Angelo, Babes in Toyland, Jawbox, The Replacements, Faith No More… the list goes on. Trophies is no less noteworthy a return. Usually, when hearing new music after such a long absence, one’s response is something like “I hope I don’t have to wait X years for their next album.” I’ll refrain from that this time because Trophies feels like a miracle, considering the band members’ now-disparate lives, and you don’t push your luck with miracles.

An undeniable urgency flows throughout Trophies, however, and I confess, it feels like this is the band’s final shot at being Luxury. Maybe that won’t be the case; maybe the future holds still more music from them. But if not, Trophies is a fantastic final statement, a perfect way to end more than two decades of music-making.

Trophies can be ordered from Luxury’s Bandcamp page.

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