Trouble Books – Balance

After two albums under the moniker Lejsovka & Freund, Akron, Ohio duo (Keith Freund and Linda Lejsovka) Trouble Books are back with a new album under their original title. Balance represents a shift away from the neo-classical vibes of L&F, moving back to the meditative, expansive-but-insular bedroom pop of previous Trouble Books releases, what the band describes as “just some simple, utilitarian songs.”

“Finally I relax,” sings Lejsovka on opener ‘Lime Loop’, with its pillowy synths and sense of patience, “the way everything slumps and settles as it burns.” It’s an immediate introduction to the juxtaposition at the heart of Balance, of finding peace in a world that seemingly has none.

Such spherical drops of serenity sit next to images of anger and violence, balanced by tracks such as ‘Gravel Pit’ with its talk of rage and gnashing teeth and a strange auto-tuned outro that updates the biblical adage about rich men and camels with added arterial spray. Things are dark too on ‘Aggregate’, a track built on looped piano and subtle beats, Freund delivering a breathless flow of lyrics that contrasts nicely with the sparing poetry of the other songs. “Something out in the street woke me up,” it begins, going on to detail commotion outside the window, a dead cat and cop cars and the victim of a mugging (“for a grapefruit and six bucks”).

Not that every song is quite so intense. The track ‘Staircase’ is all nostalgia for times past, and the systolic murmur of ‘Tanking for Zion’ fills what’s otherwise mostly negative space, another mindful and minimal song that sees the narrator time-out to appreciate a patch of warmth and light. “Took a minute in a square of sunlight,” she sings, “rare in this long night.” Such tracks feel like they come close to realizing the balance of the title, managing to square the competing poles and find some form of respite, for four minutes at least.

But even the songs that sound contented can’t escape the anxieties of our age. ‘New Moon’ is a calm and reflective pop song that seems to glow from within. Thematically, it’s an ode to the continuing beauty of nature even in our dramatically altered world, Lejsovka singing of early hyacinths and the “rainbow-skinned pools” of pollution or fertilizer run-off. “Maybe I shouldn’t smile as I, closed eyes, step into sunshine where the forest is clear-cut for high-tension wires,” she sings, “But I can’t really fake it, take it where I can get it.” Even if personal equilibrium is achieved, there’s a wider imbalance looming, and one that is not so easily solved.

‘Spider on Moss’ later returns to ecological concerns, dramatic synths painted across a dark palette like the aurora, as Freund sings of a trip to the gas station to buy some soon-to-be trash. The title refers to a desire to make oneself as small as a spider, to avoid that lasting footprint of destruction that us humans seem doomed to leave behind. It captures something at the heart of Balance, a sense of concern for other living things, both human and otherwise, something Trouble Books try to sum up in a line squirreled away on their Bandcamp page: “Balance is equal reward, opportunity, access, rights for all beings great and small.”

Pause and wonder at the dark trees
looming powerfully over the lit BP canopy
and me,
I’ll try to offset the cost, to be lite,
a spider on moss

Balance is out now and you can get it now via the Trouble Books Bandcamp.