The expectations for Trade Wind to do something great were there from the start, even if the initial concept might have come from way out of left field. On the face of it, the pairing of Stick To Your Guns’ Jesse Barnett and Stray From The Path’s Tom Williams speaks for itself when it comes to quality, and even if translating their ideas over from hardcore to a softer, shoegaze-influenced canvas seems out of the ordinary, it certainly worked on You Make Everything Disappear in 2016. What’s more impressive is that, even for what is blatantly a side-project, Trade Wind seem to be operating as a constantly-evolving vehicle; expanding the band into a four piece for their last album was a major milestone, and now Certain Freedoms aims to build on what they already have sonically with an even deeper, more lush palate.
And that’s definitely the case, but only to an extent. Above all else, Certain Freedoms plays out like an exercise in sonic scrapbooking, as Trade Wind take pieces and elements of indie-rock and shoegaze to create something that’s more free-flowing and boundless, often deviating from not only the regimented norm of traditional songwriting but also the winding, long-winded exhaustion that can often befall more traditional shoegaze. It’s a bold move, certainly, but it’s hard to say that it’s not something they do reasonably well, at least in terms of working with what they’ve got. It’s just a shame that what they’ve got can either struggle to connect or not exactly fit with their own vision, and that can lead to an album that, while not without merit, lacks what would ultimately be necessary to make something like this work.
It’s not even that Trade Wind are incapable of making this sort of thing sound good; quite the opposite in fact, as when they fully hit their stride, Certain Freedoms excellently captures the essence of lucidity and openness that both its vibe and writing centre around. It’s most evident when there’s a sturdier rock framework in play like on the loose-limbed drumming and shining guitars of No King But Me or the dense, driving post-rock influences of the title track, but across the board, the knowledge of this sort of music feels pretty evident. Flower Machine serves as possibly the best conduit between the two sides in a presentation that’s overtly gentle and lush but rooted in indie progressions, but with the ghostly air that gives an intense closeness to Close Encounters (Of The 3rd Floor) or the chilly guitars and keys of I Can’t Believe You’re Gone that split the difference between new wave languidness and an almost gothic sense of darkness, the converging sonic camps feel incredibly well-integrated. It definitely helps that Barnett’s vocal modulation is as strong as it is too, saving the raw yet melodic howls of his main band as welcome accompaniments to a softer, silkier tone that’s much more comfortable with the understated production job.
And yet, for as good as all of that regularly is, it doesn’t feel used in a way that yields the maximum benefit for Trade Wind. As an album, Certain Freedoms definitely starts off strong with a run of tracks that fully nail the approach they’re going for, but that doesn’t last, as particularly towards the back third, things feel overly truncated to the point where individual elements aren’t given the chance to coalesce properly. It’s definitely noticeable on Beige where it seems as though the heavier rock coda is simply stitched to the back of the post-rock atmosphere with little of the grace that came before it, but tracks like Moonshot and Untitled II feel so abortive in their short runtimes that they struggle to pick up any traction at all. It’s where the aforementioned scrapbooking approach really hits its limits, as these portions of sound begin to feel like just that more than ever, and Trade Wind end up feeling like a more fragmented presence because of it.
And that’s really a shame because the core of these ideas are resoundingly solid. Even on this very album, Trade Wind make considerable strides towards feeling like more than just a side-project, and yet it never quite gets there thanks to a lack of some real connection where that would’ve been most imperative. It’s still a decent album and worthy of a spin if only to see the kernels of some exceptionally solid initial movements, but there’s still more building upon them that needs to be done before Trade Wind can really become great. It’s a good start, but Certain Freedoms needs a bit more to really hit its full potential.
For fans of: Lonely The Brave, Greywind, Deftones
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Certain Freedoms’ by Trade Wind is released on 26th April on End Hits Records.