God it seems, missed one of the deadly sins.
Even the pseudo-philosophy of the Matrix got it right: ‘love… is a disease’ scowls Agent Smith. Even then, perhaps it wasn’t love that afflicted the legions of the converted to fell at the feet of the Trail of Dead as they cut their way to success with there 2002 release of Source Tags and Codes – certainly though, some audiophile virus that blinded them to the sheer mediocrity of an album that was hailed by a few as the future of rock and roll. Then perhaps, it wasn’t their fault, but rather, that of the forgotten sin – infatuation. The band itself certainly want all out to dazzle and daze, from there ridiculous band name to their philosophical musings on the net. But this was no marketing stunt; a lie told enough will be believed by all – even the liar. From beginning to end, the Trail of Dead submerge the listener into a fantastical world of smoke and mirrors, lush instrumentation and layered cacophony – anything… absolutely anything to distract from the barren soundscape that Source Tags and Codes really is.
There is little doubt that Source Tags had the potential to truly be the future of music - The Trail of Dead had everything going right: Minds with a feel for epic arrangements, music with a stunning variety of instruments, fused together with a modern hard rock edge, a hint of almost ethereal-punk composition. Those, together with a major label full length debut and their wild live shows were sure to attract the attention of thousands of music listeners looking for something new, something fresh. But despite all that, the Dead was a well packaged machine with a cog jammed where it mattered most – at the core of the music.
The first track of Source Tags, Invocation, is a minute and a half display of the Dead’s distractive brilliance – a soft, hauntingly beautiful piano track played over a myriad of ambient noises, setting the tone for the album’s first real track, It Was There That I Saw You, lurching into a frenzy of running snare drumming and opening with Keely’s indistinctive American punk vocal stylings, singing some truly great lyrical imagery that features throughout: As evening sighs/ Rises up against the sky-line/Let me come and have my leis. As the heavy gives way to the smooth, the guitars, slow and simmering, lapse into the opening piano melody of Invocation, accompanied by the sounds of violins and ‘big’ sounding drums, before reaching a crescendo and delving back into the opening chords. Already, the signs of weakness are there: a saturation of noise captured by a torrent of cymbal abuse in order to cover up for the distinct lack of the songs’ core strength, as well as a drawn out, droning, distorted ending – both features so prominent on many songs on the album, including Homage, Heart in the Hand of the matter, and the title track itself. The reasons are simple: the Dead have to use both in order to stop exposing the staleness of the melodies which they create.
Our third serving, hailed as perhaps the best song on the album, Another Morning Stoner, fails to satisfy as well. For all the supposed brilliance of it, everyone has seemed to overlook the fact that the entire song is carried through by only two key elements: a single repetitive guitar line and Keely’s single repetitive vocal melody. There’s a pretty ambient bit in the middle, but it seems to be there for its own sake, to give it a completeness that is simply lacking, and fails, with or without it. Again, the Dead drench the listener with a tropical serving of instrumentation to cover up an otherwise boring song. There is, for one, an accordion to be heard playing at the end of Another Morning Stoner’s very own drawn out ending – pretentious or no? You decide. The two follow ups, Baudelaire and Homage, sound like tracks from Franz Ferdinand and some average malcore act, respectively. Oh, they’re entertaining, but only for a couple of listens, before their appeal simply wares off. This comparison however, should serve to show some of the variety and counter-balancing in which the Dead engage upon with their music, with good success. Still, it’s like trying to paint a masterpiece with an infinite variety of grays.
From here, the tracks follow a relatively straightforward progression, with the band making the best possible use of the palette of colour given to them, interrupted only with a couple of Tool-esque filler tracks, Life is Elsewhere, a ditty into some flute and an attempt at an esoteric feeling, with the sounds of sharpening knives in the background and a man speaking in Japanese, as well as After The Laughter, a quiet little track which serves as a lead up to the album’s last and title track – one that the Gallagher brothers would be proud of. The left over songs here fall into one of two categories – head shakingly good, or painfully average. Among the former are How Near How Far, another lyrical masterpiece (see, lyrics on an album which aims to overwhelm are far easier to write than music), whose relative simplicity elevates it above the much too finely crated dynamics of other songs on the album. Heart in the Hand of the Matter and Monsoon are exemplars of this problem. In trying to create their crystal masterwork of an album, the dynamics begin to feel contrived, straying, but attached to a leach that doesn’t let the music explore its full potential. As it turns out, both songs end with some droning tripe at the end again – by this point in the album, it begins to get very very annoying.
Days of Being Wild and Relative Ways offer hope in their near anthemic sing-along kind of songs, but again, amount to boring, average songs offering nothing but a continuation of an album which is very much a whole. And with Source Tags, it is impossible to deny it – the songs here add up to create a well defined and rounded album
, rather than a collection of songs thrown together. This can no doubt be attributed to the tight oversight needed to pack the punch it had on its listeners. For the truth of the matter is, that Source Tags and Codes reeks of epic monstrosity, but not because of it’s inherent scope – rather, it plays like a stunted giant saturated with the perfume of the truly great hoping to be noticed by it’s accessories, rather than by what it truly is. Sure, one can appreciate that in itself, but there’s no saving the eternally damned, even if they try – luckily for us, our infatuation wasn’t a sin.