Once again I come to this review with little more knowledge of the band than hearing their name and no knowledge or their previous albums. The album has been out long enough for you to find other reviews so I thought I’d change the emphasis slightly and spend a bit more time on the band for the benefit of those, like me, unfamiliar with their work. As The Progressive Aspect’s manifesto is to bring music to the consciousness of our readers I thought it would be appropriate.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have been around a long time now, though the core of the band right from its inception has been the multi-instrumentalists Conrad Keely and Jason Reece. They both contribute drumming, keyboard and guitar duties and over the years other musicians have been involved helping them to bring their music to our ears.
The more I find out about …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead the greater my curiosity. For example, they announced this album on the internet with a jigsaw puzzle. I wish I’d seen that or had a better idea of how it worked because it intrigues me. But I think you could assume things about the band because of this approach. I’ll leave such assumptions to you.
If you find comparisons with other bands helpful, then I heard references to Jane’s Addiction, Kinks, The Cure, New Model Army, the Beatles, Hawkwind, Killing Joke and even hints of Joy Division. There you go.
The eight previous …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead studio albums show the development of the band, which is to be expected. The urgency and sheer musical aggression of their second album, Madonna, is still evident on their third album, Source Tags and Codes, but even this early on the aggressive songs are counter-balanced with quieter and more contemplative songs. By 2006 and the So Divided album this has been supplanted by an even more measured and varied musical approach.
Tao of the Dead continues the trend of emerging maturity, fantastic riffs and tuneful melody with less reliance on the aggression so prevalent on their earlier albums, though it is still there. Their eighth album, Lost Songs seems to buck the trend and go all shouty but perhaps this is to reflect the themes of war, tyranny and apathy covered by the songs. The stand out track for me being Flower Card Games. Tao of the Dead and So Divided are splendid collections of songs, good enough to go on my list of Albums To Buy.
Genre? American Alternative Rock, apparently. I think that means they are not like Kiss, Buddy Holly or the Eagles. I also read on Wikipedia that they are Art Rock. Well, that settles that one, then.
Enough comparisons for now. What about IX? This is their ninth studio album so it’s not just a clever name.
But is it a clever album and does it make my aforementioned list?
Firstly, as with many of their albums, the artwork is beautiful. After the shoutiness of Lost Songs there’s a definite move back onto the path they were on with Tao of the Dead and So Divided. I’m glad because this is a side of the band I’d much prefer they developed. They’re definitely still in touch with the aggressive tendencies of their youth but their canvass uses a broader palette. There are tracks with eastern influenced percussion, restrained acoustic guitar and piano – and even strings – making this album much less the full on assault typical of their earliest albums. These short interludes give depth, breadth and even respite to what could easily be a one dimensional noise.
The stand-out tracks for me are the instrumental How To Avoid Huge Ships which comes ex nihilo and builds in a repetitive yet rousing way to a crescendo before easing us back down to the dying notes on the piano and segueing into the 7/8 riff of Bus Lines.
Bus lines has a wonderful section of acoustic guitar accompanied by multi-tracked vocals. IX almost starts me wondering whether there was a progressive metal aspiration here but I suspect that it is a one-off event because, by the ninth album, such a radical change of direction would seem deeply uncharacteristic of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.
I’m not sure this is a clever album but then, how do you judge that and, more importantly, what does it matter? The real question is: Is it a good album?! The answer is, of course, subjective, but it is up there with the best thing …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have done. Nine albums into their career that is quite an achievement. For you Progressive Rock aficionados let’s put that in perspective; Genesis’s ninth studio album was …And Then There Were Three and Yes’s was Tormato. Arguably, ATTWT was the start of Genesis’s creative decline and Tormato was definitely not a high for Yes. (I don’t want to go too far with the Prog Rock comparison because Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album was Wish You Were Here. Clearly that makes a complete nonsense of the analogy).
Does it make my list? Yes, I think it would. I’d be happy to put it there with Tao of the Dead and So Divided.
01. The Doomsday Book (3:31)
02. Jaded Apostles (4:04)
03. A Million Random Digits (3:07)
04. Lie Without A Liar (3:22)
05. The Ghost Within (3:14)
06. The Dragonfly Queen (2:57)
07. How To Avoid Huge Ships (4:46)
08. Bus Lines (6:09)
09. Lost In The Grand Scheme (7:26)
10. Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears (3:42)
11. Sound Of The Silk (5:18)
Total Time – 44:36
Conrad Keely – Vocals, Guitar, Drums, Piano
Jason Reece – Drums, Vocals, Guitar
Autry Fulbright II – Bass, Vocals
Jamie Miller – Drums, Guitar
Record Label: Superball Music