Any review of Personal Trainer ought to address the Stephen Malkmus-shaped elephant in the room. In his previous band, Canshaker Pi, Willem Smit, the group’s conductor and cheerleader, recorded with Malkmus and there is a distinct air of Pavement’s swallowed a thesaurus and must select the most phonetically pleasing words approach to Smit’s lyrics. ‘Big Love Blanket’ takes a cue from early Pavement at their most refreshingly ramshackle but ramps it up several notches with a seven-person line-up and wider instrumentation. Personal Trainer are a band fond of a crazy idea demonstrated by having played a 24-hour set during lockdown and mooting the concept of performing two gigs at identical times with the same songs but in different countries with separate line-ups.

The title track starts the album in a misleadingly quiet way, although the slow build from Smit’s unaccompanied voice to distant electronics joined by a gentle strum to a Polyphonic Spree mantra chorus (“Write a line a day/ keep smiling”) gives a glimpse of the scale of what follows. ‘The Lazer’ blasts in, a double-espresso fuelled, crowd-surfing hook-laden rush, wayward but laconic, a slacker vibe with a sarky take on the journey from infancy to prolonged adolescence:

You’re working on your social skills
And you’re working on your backhand
Working on your songs
Working on your math
Working on becoming who your daddy used to be

With Abel Tuinstra’s keys more prominent, ‘Rug Busters’ feels like a LCD Soundsystem pop song on steroids with squelchy electronics, knowing asides (“If your book is coming along nicely and you’re into Sun, oh”) and cryptic Fall references (“If you’re that granny playing the bongos and You finished your first solo album.”)

‘Milk’ is a keys and orchestration lead big ballad with Smit’s giddy vocals approaching a falsetto croon. ‘Key of Ego’ sees Personal Trainer at their most joyfully bombastic, big riffs and synth flourishes, lyrical jibes at machismo (“Overalls, pheromones, womanise, enterprise/ Give me more baritone/ Pass my testosterone”) and a chorus with the epic scale of Faith No More’s ‘We Care A Lot’.

Even the more ordinarily mid-paced ‘Texas in the Kitchen’ suddenly engages in a brief successful wrestle with freeform jazz-shrieking. On ‘Cut Loose’ Smit’s vocals go the full Wayne Coyne (“You’re making my guts unfold…Courageous and out of tune”) while ‘The Money Department’ is a 70 second jagged pop blast illustrating their songs’ commendable ability not to outstay their welcome.  ‘Former Puppy’, one of their hugest tunes, is introduced with sugary ‘la la la’ vocals and guitar rushes that inspire the desire to cavort around a dancefloor with complete disregard for safety. In contrast, closing track ’Vaalserberg Hero’ sounds world-weary with the song’s character updating their Facebook account, shooting a selfie of the star they thought they were.

Personal Trainer transcend their influences in an album brimming with excitable chaos and the need to cram together tunes and lyrical ideas but produced with a clarity that highlights all these qualities. Wrap yourself in a ‘Big Love Blanket.’ 

Personal Trainer: Big Love Blanket – Out 4th November 2022 (The Industry)


I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.