...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
IX


3.0
good

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
November 6th, 2014 | 22 replies


Release Date: 11/11/2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: All work and no play makes Conrad a dull boy.

Despite the critical narrative that tends to divide up …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead’s discography between everything up to and including 2002’s mammoth Source Tags & Codes, and everything after (often charitably described as, “well, at least they’re trying”), it would be disingenuous to state that the band’s path has not been an interesting one. Few could accuse the band of resting on their laurels as they traced a path through everything-and-the-kitchen-sink hedonism to reconstruction of their prog-rock destiny to a bare-bones return to their roots. I have always been willing to go to bat for even the band’s most lambasted works – I will defend So Divided’s batshit experiments and that ill-advised Guided By Voices cover til I die, and The Century of Self, whose meandering, imposing structures made for a nearly impenetrable album, remains one of the most underrated releases in their oeuvre. It’s a shame, then, that after 2012’s vibrant, vital Lost Songs, the feeling that most easily comes to mind after listening to their latest release, the aptly titled IX, is one I’ve rarely encountered in their work: boredom.

Put simply, the record’s bifurcated nature works against it. A track like opener “The Doomsday Book” is Trail of Dead at their most efficient – thundering drums, groaning guitars, Conrad Keely’s breathless, fantastical vocals writing blood on the page. It clocks in at a tidy three and a half minutes and little to no emotional punch. This paint-by-numbers approach tends to sink much of the first half of IX, whether it be the faceless “A Million Random Digits” or the straining “Lie Without A Liar,” which wastes a great, anthemic chorus on a song that fails to differentiate itself from its surroundings. They play more like imitations of visceral Trail of Dead songs than the real deal, lacking that spark that made earlier Trail of Dead songs lash out through the speakers, that transform their live show into a chaotic pit. Drummer Jamie Miller is uniformly excellent here, but the pounding tom rhythm of “The Doomsday Book” becomes far less interesting the fourth time through, still set below those droning, ominous guitar riffs. And while Keely has improved immeasurably as a vocalist over the years – you can practically see the spit escaping his sneering mouth on “Jaded Apostles,” full of venomous desperation – what does a Trail of Dead fan need to do to get some more Jason Reece here"

On one hand, the band’s decision to transform the latter part of IX into a more Tao of the Dead-style art rock exhibition, beginning with that gorgeous, jangly riff to “The Dragonfly Queen,” is fitting for IX as a whole. Positioned as almost a career retrospective, with the first half of the record denoting the band’s punk energy and more “rock”-oriented song structures and side B as a nod to their infatuation with lavish, string-infused prog, IX fulfills its role admirably. IX’s disservice to the band’s coarser side, then, is almost an insult, making it an exhausting effort to get to the true meat of the record that is the one-two punch of “How To Avoid Huge Ships” and “Bus Lines.” The former is the kind of slow burning instrumental Trail of Dead have been tinkering with since Source Tags & Codes’ elaborate interludes and codas, perfected here through a relentless crescendo that stomps and crashes with every trick in the band’s orchestrated arsenal. Centerpiece “Bus Lines” is a song that, on an earlier Trail of Dead record, might have been fitted in clothes two sizes too big for it, bludgeoned to death with effects and string swells and layers upon layers of tracks; here, though, restraint rules out. In its expansive, hazy atmosphere, Trail of Dead lose nothing of their classically epic sound, and in Keely’s unusually introspective, intimate lyrics – the nostalgia of old travels, the simple joys of being with friends, homesickness – the band has crafted a song that doesn’t need to pull out all those studio stops to tug at the heart.

In a way, IX is an odd inversion of the criticism that has so often attached itself to Trail of Dead. The robust rock songs fall flat, rarely achieving lift off from their rote, chugging origins, while even the band’s worst proggish impulses are neatly trimmed down into manageable four-minutes-and-under transitions and slapped with a typically Trail of Dead-ian name, a middle finger in disguise (“Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears,” indeed). Only closer “Sound Of The Silk” really marries the two histories of the band into the kind of complete performance that made Tao of the Dead such a thrilling ride. That track leaves a perfectly acceptable Keely performance behind to ride reckless through an exotic drum breakdown through the streets of Calcutta before coming out the side with one of Reece’s patented spoken word pieces. Then the guitars rev up, Reece’s poem accelerates and catches fire before everything deteriorates into a raucous call-and-response between him and Keely, an effortless synthesis that has defined their best work for years and years, the theme of the album, and, yes, the band, too, clearer than ever: far better together than apart.




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user ratings (56)
Chart.
3.3
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
November 6th 2014


11987 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

5th review of these guys might as well finish their discography at this point

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Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 6th 2014


40852 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Arcade you officially have horrible taste I'm sorry say

It took me a couple of read-throughs to realise what you were trying to say with the first sentence in this review klap, but otherwise top form as usual

"what does a Trail of Dead fan need to do to get some more Jason Reece here?" fucking amen

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klap
Staff Reviewer
November 6th 2014


11987 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

cleaned it up a bit thanks rowan

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 6th 2014


40852 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Just kidding Arcade man, give it a few more chances it will grow on you immeasurably

no probs k.....klllll...................................sorry, your dog hypnotised me again

wacknizzle
November 6th 2014


14521 Comments


Haven't cared for this band since Source Tags & Codes. I think it should stay that way

Pangea
November 6th 2014


2720 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I quite like this album

ti0n
November 6th 2014


1769 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i think the middle section is where this album gets best: The songs from "Ghost Within" and "Bus Lines" are all excellent. too bad the other songs lack excitement. still enjoyable tho and gonna see them in a couple of weeks. lets see how that album hits live. nice review klap nevertheless, can understand the critizism.

CrownOfMagnets
November 6th 2014


2334 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ghost Within is a good song in the typical trail of dead style. the rest of the album is pretty good. its a shame though since their last two records were as enjoyable as source tags. this is about as enjoyable as worlds apart or so divided

Drsmith4
November 6th 2014


1735 Comments


Bifurcated

ExplosiveOranges
November 6th 2014


4408 Comments


CALLED IT! Always gotta love a Rudy review. Where should I start with these guys?

klap
Staff Reviewer
November 6th 2014


11987 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

source tags & codes easy

JohnFire
November 7th 2014


600 Comments


Or Madonna, they actually still play a couple of songs off of that sometimes.
This is a weird band for me, I actually got into them with Worlds Apart, I still think it's their best. I liked So Divided way more than anyone else it seemed, but after that they just have too much filler on their albums, with Lost Songs having the least of those in regards to their last three albums. I've listened to this twice so far and nothing really got stuck in my head.

CrownOfMagnets
November 7th 2014


2334 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i also got into them with worlds apart... that will you smile again song in particular

klap
Staff Reviewer
November 7th 2014


11987 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

So Divided is pretty underrated imo, I got into them with source tags & codes and worlds apart but it was right before So Divided came out so I listened to it a ton when it dropped

hownearhowfar
November 10th 2014


35 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think it might be a grower, but for now I'm giving it a 3.5. It's good, but there's something really strange about the vocals on this, both in terms of performance and production. It's especially bothersome on The Doomsday Book. Conrad sounds like he's struggling to find the tune, as though he had just finished writing the lyrics when it came time to hit the mics and hadn't yet figured out how to sing them. Still, I have that feeling that this is going to pay massive dividends within a week or two. I love Jamie's tune. Nice to have a third vocalist in the band, again.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 10th 2014


40852 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

They have three vocalists again?

hownearhowfar
November 10th 2014


35 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah, Jamie Miller does lead vocals on "Lie Without a Liar."

Aaron
August 13th 2015


656 Comments


Seeing them tonight. Stoked.

jtswope
August 13th 2015


5788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Lucky bastard.

osmark86
August 25th 2015


8117 Comments


Would love to catch this band live. I, like only a few, also think Worlds Apart is their best and that So Divided is the most accurate ironically titled album I can think of. Personally I love it. This album has flown completely under my radar so time to give Trail of Dead some attensh again. Great band.

Digging: Marxthrone - A Blaze In The Western Sky



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