Personal Trainer Still Willing

Label
Bella Union
Released
2nd August 2024

Format Info

Dinked LP

If you like pop music to keep you on your toes, Amsterdam’s Personal Trainer provide that service fulsomely on their second album. Essentially the project of Willem Smit (working with co-producer/collaborator Casper van der Lans) on record and a band live, Personal Trainer showed a facility for DIY indie-pop exuberance and experiment in sync with 2022’s debut, Big Love Blanket. Now signed to Bella Union, Willem returns re-energised with Still Willing, a multi-faceted album of shining contrasts and spry melodies, bursting arrangements and subliminal sounds, playful lyrics and self-reflection: in short, a pop album executed with dynamism, vim and charm.

As Willem says, this is a record fuelled by its extremes: sometimes energetic and loud, sometimes quiet and thoughtful, always full of hidden pleasures. “When I listen to the records I make, the main thing I hope is that every time something happens on them, you’re like, ‘Wow.’ I like to be taken by surprise like that on a record, to kind of be thrown around.”

 Those surprises start at the beginning, where ‘Upper Ferntree Gully’ shows a dreamy side to Personal Trainer before choppy, chunky riffs and electronics take over. Meanwhile, Willem’s anchoring imprint is ever-present: he prefers not to dissect his lyrics, but the title nod to his mother’s birthplace in Australia and opening recording of her voice seed a spirit of warmth and intimacy in the record – the personal in Personal Trainer, perhaps.  

In a sharp left-turn, ‘I Can be Your Personal Trainer’ follows with a buoyant swing. The album proceeds with that duality in mind, always Smit’s work yet always fresh, always seeking. In Willem’s description, ‘Cyan’ is “a weird, happy pop track”, chivvied onwards by contributor Nick Bolland’s sax and leavened by vocal contributions from Dutch alt-pop singer Lena Hessels. “With most of this one I was trying to make myself laugh or at least smile,” says Willem. “And then I started to really like it. Somewhere along the process I found something like honesty or something beautiful in it.”