Normally the average person tries their best to avoid tram cops as they are generally viewed as unpleasant and spiteful. However, the smooth and eccentric pop-jazz infused music of Michael Vince Moin’s Tram Cops is anything but unpleasant. Self-described as an alt-indie-psych-rock-jazz-blues-folk-funk-world-fusion outfit from the Victorian capital with obvious issues with minor authority figures, their latest offering Not Forever is a complex mix of sounds and genres that challenges the senses upon first listen, but falls into place after a second spin.
With clear nods to bygone eras, Not Forever is a spacey, driving trip into the mind and bedroom of Vince Moin. Despite being 10 songs long, the album only runs for 24 minutes with an average song length around the 2:30 mark which can sometimes leave you feeling a bit unsatisfied. This is especially the case with the end of “BB Jesus” – the sleazy Alabama Shakes-esque blues jam is one of the highlights of the album, but tragically it only lasts a minute.
The record opens with two-in-one song “Contain U II”. The opening acoustic strumming reminiscent of Grizzly Bear’s “Southern Point” (2009) is quickly forgotten as the jangly reverb-drenched lead guitar pulls the listener into a jaunty pop explosion before flatlining and again dispensing with the idea. Then enters Vince Moin’s lilting, lackadaisical vocals. “I will try my best to smile baby,” he sings in a bored tone. The highlight of this track comes from female vocalist Georgia Smith who takes the same words and sings them with such an upbeat sunny disposition, you wonder if she is directly disobeying the message behind the lyrics.
“When mummy dies, when daddy cries, woah, this is it, this is it.” The mood of the album is established early on – melancholic ballads trapped in cheerful synth-pop melodies and smashed with reverb and other psychedelic effects. “This Is It”, the second track on the album is only 1:54 long and seems unfinished, as if he struggled to write a second verse so ultimately gave up and ended it early. Some might argue that this is intentional, leaving the audience wanting more. Others might argue that it leaves the listener feeling incomplete and uncomfortable. Where a bridge section would normally be, there is instead a sudden and abrupt cut off.
One of the best songs on the album is “Matador” – a folk influenced chugging good time. The ascending melody pairing from the vocals and guitar are easily the best part of this track and one of the shining moments of the whole album. Adding in blips and bops from a distant synthesizer and sliding guitar licks, this song is fun and exciting in an understated way. Arpeggiated synthesizers and wandering, on-trend sax solos complete the song, giving it a fittingly surreal, mind-bending conclusion.
Track four sees Vince Moin compare himself to Baby Jesus. “BB Jesus” follows similar lines as “Contain U II” with chopping and changing of styles and grooves creating a broad landscape of sound, from indie-surf rock to sleazy blues-jazz. Chaos and order seem to be competing with each other throughout, resolving into drastic changes and free-time guitar work. As mentioned previously, the blues jam at the end of this is the best part of the album, sleazy yet clean. Sharp and crisp trumpet stabs, back-beat hi-hats and an ever-so-lightly overdriven guitar solo create the perfect atmosphere for lazy afternoon dancing. If only it was longer. This section is too short, it could have been doubled and no one would have any complaints.
The alluring “Sand” evokes pictures of a man in a small bar overlooking a Hawaiian beach. He’s got a thick moustache, aviators and a fedora. He’s on a giant phone, enticing someone to come and join him in his reverie and in a way, it’s unsettling but also oddly inviting. This song embodies this man. It has a relaxed easy-going groove, playful guitar and expectedly sensual saxophone swells.
Track six “LA” really marks the end of full-length songs on the album. Starting with a “doo-what doo-what” this song is the most commercially friendly and likely contender for radio time. High register vocals and distant fuzzy guitars place this piece into the dreamy psychedelic genre more than others on the record, with perhaps some subtle hints of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Tame Impala. This track is a definite standout on the album, providing some much-needed familiar song structure that other songs have lacked.
The last four tracks collectively span roughly seven and a half minutes and feature a wide variety of styles. “Nel” is an instrumental that follows the lines of a French jazz shuffle with acoustic guitar, brushed drums, muted trumpet and electric keyboard, recalling King Krule’s “Logos” (2017). Next, “Self Portrait” fits back into the style of “Matador”. The album’s title track “Not Forever” is another instrumental that lasts less than a minute and a half and mostly feels like an interlude into the final track, “Flat Earth 101” which is even shorter. This song had potential to be quite good, however, like most of the rest of the album it leaves the listener feeling unfulfilled and incomplete.
Tram Cops have delivered an intriguing and exciting album that possesses glimpses of intricate and experimental songwriting, but unfortunately that is all they are – glimpses. All the aspects of this album that could make it excellent are too short and fleeting. Sometimes less is more, but in this instance, more would have been preferred. The album feels more like a collection of ideas rather than a cohesive body of work, as if Vince Moin recorded small ideas in isolation and never went back to elaborate on them or connect them with others.