18+ – Trust – Review

John Preston

Hyperbole surrounding the importance of 18+’s identity – ironically, a key selling point for this celebrity-adverse 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 farther than they did, we can now reimagine these songs with portraits of the actual performers themselves and not the carefully stage-managed visuals dictated by the duo.

Whether or not this has been a mistake and somehow weakened the appeal of 18+ is negligible. What we have been ultimately left with is the music unaccompanied by any surplus hype. And this is how we receive Trust.

Trust is not a multimedia release, and thankfully there is just enough sonic expertise and craft to allow it to stand unassisted. All of the tracks on Trust have been selected from their previous three mixtapes. 18+ have been making music together for several years now, so unless you’re completely unfamiliar with their material, there are no surprises here.

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18+ really enjoy singing about sex but whether they actually enjoy it is unclear. 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.

‘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’ pays a debt to Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’ with its skeletal nursery rhyme feel and highly sexualised motifs. Meanwhile, ‘Almost Leaving’ is essentially indie shoe-gaze, but 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’s again ’90s trip-hop which most comes to mind. Listen, for example, to Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird’s ‘Makes Me Wanna Die’ and compare its musical ambitions to at least half the tracks here – on many levels it’s difficult to feel that almost 20 years has passed since the former’s release.

Of course, a lot of trip-hop was interested in exploring the emotional as well as sexual connections between people, 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.

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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 or the authenticity of his partner in crime. Self-contained, claustrophobic and still somewhat shallow, the pair have 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 sparking ideas here, though, and it can only be 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.

About John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.