“Trust” – 18+

3 stars (out of 5)

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TrustHyperbole surrounding the importance of 18+’s identity, ironically a key selling point for this celebrity-averse duo’s brand, has run its course. In some ways it was only a matter time. Interviews are given, live performances attended and there, smack bang in the centre of “Trust”’s cover art, the couple finally appear, photographed together, in brutal and beautiful profile. If American musicians Samia Mirza and Justin Swinburne (previously referred to as just Boy and Sis) had wanted to remain anonymous for longer, then they could have done but the decision to be unmasked appears to be of their own making. After months of slightly sinister CGI videos, which could have gone much further than they did, we now can reimagine these songs with portraits of the actual performers themselves and not the carefully stage-managed visuals as dictated by the duo. Whether or not this has been a mistake and somehow weakened the appeal of 18+ isn’t important. What we have been ultimately left with is the music unaccompanied by any surplus hype. “Trust” is not a multi-media release and thankfully there is just enough sonic expertise and craft to allow it to stand unassisted.

‘Lap, fuck, hair, fingers, taste, down, spit, clit, dry’; words that you’ll hear more than once over “Trust”’s playing time confirming a persistent, glitchy nihilistic tone throughout. 18+ really enjoy singing about sex but whether they actually enjoy it is unclear. All of the tracks on “Trust” have been selected from their previous three mixtapes and 18+ have been making music together for several years now, so unless you’re completely unfamiliar with their material there are no surprises here. “Crow”, one of the duo’s biggest songs to date, still stands out as the most accessible and immediate track due to repetitive tropes including finger- clicks, booming bass and, appropriately enough, a crow’s caw. It is also one of the album’s most melodic moments, something that 18+ need to focus on, and features a typically slippery but assertive vocal from Mirza who welcomingly refuses the victim role throughout.

Forgiven” owes a debt to Kelis’ Milkshake with its skeletal nursery rhyme feel and highly sexualised motifs and “Almost Leaving” is essentially indie shoe-gaze and is quietly lovely. “OIXU”, another highlight, sounds like The xx and Sugababes (first generation) trading verses and chorus respectively. It’s not important that 18+ don’t offer anything original here, it’s the quality that counts after all, but aside from a dominant trap influence it is again nineties trip-hop which most comes to mind. Listen for example to Tricky and Martina Topley- Bird’s “Makes me Wanna Die” and compare its ambitions musically to at least half the tracks here and on many levels it’s difficult to feel that almost twenty years has passed since the former’s release. Of course a lot of trip-hop was interested in exploring emotional connections as well as sexual, much like FKA Twigs today, and this is where the likes of 18+ differ. The faceless and tireless disconnect and reinvention options that the internet offers informs everything about Mirza and Swinburne’s approach including the finished work itself.

18+ had the opportunity on “Trust” to expand and refine their ideas based on what’s come before and maybe that’s the biggest disappointment, their failure to develop or to fill in some of the missing details. Songs where Swinburne dominates, “Club God” for example, don’t work as well, as he just doesn’t have either the presence and authenticity of his partner in crime. Self-contained, claustrophobic and still somewhat shallow, the pair has really worked hard in creating an enveloping, somewhat sleazy mood but occasionally this is at the cost of the required depth or imagination to prevent it becoming, over the course of an entire album, dull and repetitive. There are some sparkling ideas here though and it can be only hoped, following the ultimate reveal of Samia Mirza and Justin Swinburne as 18+, that they can further craft their vision and soundscapes into something even more compelling and consistently captivating.