One of the weird things about Trophy Scars' sophomore full-length (and there were quite a few), 2006's Alphabet. Alphabets., was how every track sounded like a closer. Every track consistently felt like the resolution of a climax, and it both benefited and hurt the album. Bad Luck departs from that a bit, aiming to construct a series of songs that rise and fall all on their own, but still damaged by their own problems and lack of effectiveness.
The band's experimental, progressive post-hardcore has been touched with a coating of bluesy expression on many tracks. Frontman Jerry Jones oscillates between a corrosive, grainy delivery and one that rears back, nearly slurring his congested thoughts to the listener. But that's not the only genre-hopping that occurs, as "Botanicas" is splashed with a hint of alt-country romp, like Fear Before covering Murder by Death before Built to Spill-esque mini-guitar-freakouts slow the tempo and the band decide to build tensions with their signature layers and tones. Salsa licks pervade the introduction of "El Cowboy Rojo," too, with Tom Waits-nodding snarls that are definitely ever-present on Bad Luck. "Toronto" spills forth like a Crimes-era Blood Brothers outtake, or something Past Lives might come up with nowadays.
Additionally, Jones uses a few songs as vehicles for biographical digressions. His stumbling over words in "El Cowboy Rojo" is refreshingly honest to read on paper; he meets up with an old friend at a record store and the following conversation ensues: "'Hey brother, how it's nice to see ya! How's your girl, Anna Lucia?' 'Four years with one chick's way too long.' 'I know this blonde, her name's Christina. She's just your type; I'm sure she'd love to meet ya.' Damn, I couldn't believe it. I run my mouth dry then I try to feed it. The thought could give me an ulcer but the truth of the matter is I'd love to meet her. Fuck, I mean I love Anna Lucia but the touch of another girl just seems so... I mean I'm better without her." But his gravelly, Waits-ish fulminating of the lines sounds a tad forced and suppresses the potential emotion that could come through. His more fragile, Conor Oberst-esque muttering in "Anna Lucia," scattered over piano plinks, seems to work for such narration much more effectively, especially since Jones' theatrical performance in this song is versatile and well-done, filling character roles admirably. You'd think you'd just met an uninhibited (and particularly poetic) Jones in a bar in closer "Good Luck"; "I graduated private school in the summer of '02. / My first true love had left me and I didn't know what to do. / I moved into New York and I thought I found the truth. / ... / Fast forward to the fall of '05. / I met the girl of my dreams and she helped me survive. / Then she left my life at a complicated time. / In March of '06 I attempted suicide. / ... / I'm sorry, Mom and Dad. / I never meant to make you cry." The tension and acoustic flickers definitely drive the emotion a bit harder in this one.
Bad Luck is an inarguably interesting listen, but one questions its overall effect on the listener. It's certainly personal, but it doesn't quite punctuate and pierce the listener like so many moments of past Trophy Scars releases did. Instead, it's merely a somewhat confounding unraveling of sorts that's missing something. It's cathartic -- no question. It's ambitious -- no arguments there. It's unpredictable -- wildly, actually. The aesthetic and artwork is wonderful, too. Still, it's missing something and it's hard to pinpoint just what and where. Possibly some space to breathe, as it stays an incredibly linear path despite its stylistic detours, and letting in some air through stop-starts or volume changes would work wonders, but it's probably something else, too. It's hard to really establish an emotional connection even as personal and narrative as Jones gets.
Trophy Scars' success remains in their ability and willingness to find success in mixing styles and influences that shouldn't work together well in theory. Bad Luck continues to prove that reputation, even if such a lack of moderation only happens to moderately succeed here.