The music that Penelope Trappes creates feels as if it has been made in the space between a dream-like stasis and the first few moments when the light hits your eyes. As a part of the ethereal synth pop duo The Golden Filter and with her first two solo records, she has been able to lasso emotions from deep within the subconscious and pull them up to where they meet reality at a perfect horizon. With her third solo album Penelope Three — out May 28 on Houndstooth Records — Trappes dives in deeper to create one of her most revealing works yet.
Following Penelope One, which Trappes said, in a release, dealt thematically with “birth, rebirth and the power of the female body” and Penelope Two, which dealt with “acknowledgement of grief and how we carry our own stories of loss,” the third record in this trilogy finds Trappes looking inward at her past traumas in order to fix what is broken to provide love safer passage into her life.
Originally from Australia, Trappes spent time living stateside in Jersey City before settling in her new home in the beach-side town of Brighton in the United Kingdom. During those moves, she raised her daughter and was learning how to create art on her own that reflected these profound changes.
“I embraced the vulnerability, and I suppose that theme was relevant in the music for everyone,” Trappes said in a Zoom interview with Ears to Feed. “It’s like [when] you’ve been in a long term relationship and suddenly you’re living all alone again. It’s just sort of like, you’ve got your autonomy. You wanted it, but it’s kind of scary at the same time. There’s a way of learning. It’s almost like relearning something that’s inherently new.”
With Penelope Three, Trappes created an album that is cinematic in scope. Her electronic orchestrations peak and valley at the pace of a car becoming airborne and returning to the ground in a slow motion head-on collision. All the while, her piercingly gorgeous vocal delivery guides you while the nightmare subsides.
But while there are these cathartic and downright apocalyptic moments on Three, she has also found ways to incorporate beautiful passages of found sound and field recordings.
You may hear seagulls squawking and flying overhead on album opener “Veil” or a river running in the stark piano ballad “Fur & Feather.” It’s a connection to nature that Trappes has felt strongly ever since she was a kid living near the rainforest town of Byron Bay. As she moved all over the world, she hoped to reflect her surroundings on her records.
“I use it more in sort of a positive trigger. A textural kind of thing,” said Trappes of these recordings. “Something that brings up something from deep inside of me on an emotional level that reminds me of whatever it is that I might be going through at the time.”
During the pandemic, Trappes has been at work creating narrative music videos to accompany all 10 songs on Three — like the recently released video for “Blood Moon” which shows a wigged Trappes looking to dispose of a dead body she finds in a parking garage.
The one that struck me the most was “Nervous,” with its impressionistic and nightmarish meditation on quitting smoking. The short shows Trappes — or a character played by Trappes — enjoying a drag off of a cigarette as the video cuts to demonic characters performing dark and unsettling rituals. For those of us who constantly stand on trial in our own minds for our vices, the lucid visions seem all too painfully real.
“There are things in life where it doesn’t have to be a heavy subject that can make one feel anxious or nervous and grappling with the control that these things can have over us,” She said. “You know you shouldn’t do it, but you just keep doing it.”
Trappes feels that these subtleties and dreamlike re-examinations of the struggles inside of her can be attributed to her life-long love of the work of David Lynch. With Lynch, Trappes feels as though his approach to create at the fringes of our subconscious has seeped into almost every corner of her mind. “It’s not just about film, is it? It’s about the broader picture. It’s not world domination. He wants to dominate your psyche. I think he’s done that a couple of times, for me.”
Penelope Three by Penelope Trappes will be released this Friday, May 28 by Houndstooth Records.