And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

“Let this be release / forever unwound.”

Album Year Rating
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead 1998 2.57/pi
Madonna 1999 2.85/pi
Relative Ways EP 2002 2.77/pi
Source Tags & Codes 2002 3.07/pi
Another Morning Stoner EP 2002 2.46/pi
Secret of Elena’s Tomb EP 2003 2.51/pi
Worlds Apart EP 2004 2.60/pi

And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are a rock & roll band from Austin, Texas. They are categorized under “post-punk”, which is a sanskrit word meaning “punk rock with condiments.”

Main lineup: Kevin Allen: guitars. Neil Busch: vocals, bass. Conrad Keely: vocals, guitars, drums. Jason Reece: vocals, drums, guitars.

AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD

1998; Rating: 2.57/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: ~ / Production: − / Innovation: +

  • 01 Richter Scale Madness [B+]
  • 02 Novena Without Faith [B+]
  • 03 Fake Fake Eyes [B+]
  • 04 Half of What [A−]
  • 05 Gargoyle Waiting [C+]
  • 06 Prince with a Thousand Enemies [A]
  • 07 Ounce of Prevention [A+]
  • 08 When We Begin to Steal… [A]

After spending a few years assembling a hefty live reputation, our boys take their first shot at studio recording…and it doesn’t go well. A good set of songs, to be sure, except maybe the rather hookless “Gargoyle Waiting” and its poorly thought out outro, which consists of an endlessly rising plinky piano note.

But the real problem here is the production, which really fails to deliver the kind of power that the music seems capable of generating. The mixing is poor, with distant guitars and vocals that never quite mesh with their surroundings. And without the godly perfect in-your-face sound of the later albums, any little flaws in the songs become much more noticeable.

But don’t let that get you down! Groove to the backbeat to end all backbeats on “Half of What”, and ignore the sometimes-awkward vocals. Their lyrics are pretty meaningless on this album anyway. But check out those chords on “Ounce of Prevention”! Those are some fucking CHORDS!!

Incidentally, if you’re one of those people who likes “post-rock” and things of that nature, you may be interested to know that they are all over that shit on this album. At least, on 8 minute repetitive whispery epics “Novena without Faith” and “When We Begin to Steal” they are. I think. I honestly don’t know what “post-rock” is, even after hearing several “post-rock” bands, but I do know that “scare quotes” are “cool”.

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MADONNA

1999; Rating: 2.85/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: + / Production: + / Innovation: +

  • 01 And You Will Know Them… [i]
  • 02 Mistakes and Regrets [A+]
  • 03 Totally Natural [A]
  • 04 Blight Takes All [A]
  • 05 Clair de Lune [A−]
  • 06 Flood of Red [B−]
  • 07 Children of the Hydra’s Teeth [B]
  • 08 Mark David Chapman [A+]
  • 09 Up from Redemption [i]
  • 10 Aged Dolls [A−]
  • 11 The Day the Air Turned Blue [i]
  • 12 A Perfect Teenhood [A]
  • 13 Sigh Your Children [A−]

Now this is a lot better. Hey! No more awkward vocals! Everything is loud as all hell and it fits together like a perfect thingy. You know what I’m talking about. ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC!

But then I was on the subway and there was this homeless guy ranting about how the vocals on “Clair de Lune” sound kinda like a bad Dylan impression, and I actually started to agree with him. And THEN this crazy 500 pound black lady with the worst hairdo I’ve ever told you about in this review started screaming at him that the whole thing was ruined by the aimless, stoned-sounding “Flood of Red”. It was creepy, so creepy that I’m starting to suspect I made it all up.

The album picks up again, though, after the little instrumental interlude “Children of the Hydra’s Teeth”, which I guess denotes the point where you would turn over the album if it was one of those huge circular stone tablets with “grooves” in them that they carved back in the old days. Speaking of the old days, isn’t “Mark David Chapman” totally going for the vibe of “Tomorrow Never Knows”? Listen to that funky drum pattern, that glistening, droning sound…ah, I’m lovin’ it. Rather than just slapping on “psychedelic” sound effects or stolen melodies like most people, they went straight for the essence of the song, and came up with something that refers subtly to the past while still having its own personality. That’s one of the things I like about these guys. They can be as subtle as Eau de Asskicking perfume, or as subtle as something that’s actually quite subtle. Often both simultaneously!

By the way, I just noticed that there’s a part of “A Perfect Teenhood” where one of the Trailers hums “MWEEEMWEMWEMEWEEEE” along with the guitar feedback for a moment. I just thought I’d share that mind-bending experience with y’all.

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RELATIVE WAYS EP

2002; Rating: 2.77/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: + / Production: ++ / Innovation: +

  • 01 Relative Ways [A]
  • 02 Homage [A−]
  • 03 Blood Rites [A−]
  • 04 The Blade Runner [B+]

I don’t actually own this CD, because it’s out of print and costs approximately 100 trillion dollars. What? That’s more than the entire Gross Domestic Product of your home country? Well, la dee da, aren’t we quite the little economist.

Anyway, the reason I am able to write this review is that I purchased “Blood Rites” and “The Blade Runner” from the iTunes music store for $1.98. Yeah, I know I could’ve gotten them for free from KaZaA, but you see, I am a Good Person and you are a Bad Person.

I’m hoping the versions of “Relative Ways” and “Homage” on here are the same as the ones on Source Tags & Codes, cause if they aren’t then I’ll have to commit seppuku. So let’s talk “Blood Rites”. This is a good song, eh? Sure. It’s less than two minutes long, and half of that is introductory atmosphere stuff, but that minute of actual music is damn fine. The other song is “The Blade Runner”, which is actually not a song at all, but a science fiction movie starring the members of And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead as robot-killing detectives or something. However, it’s a movie with no visuals or dialogue, just sound effects and 5 minutes of creepy cello playing. Siskel and Ebert give it one thumb up and one rotting thumb limp.

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SOURCE TAGS & CODES

2002; Rating: 3.07/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: + / Production: ++ / Innovation: +

  • 01 It Was There that I Saw You [A]
  • 02 Another Morning Stoner [A+]
  • 03 Baudelaire [A]
  • 04 Homage [A]
  • 05 How Near How Far [A]
  • 06 Heart in the Hand of the Matter [A]
  • 07 Monsoon [A]
  • 08 Days of Being Wild [A+]
  • 09 Relative Ways [A]
  • 10 After the Laughter [i]
  • 11 Source Tags & Codes [A+]

Yeah, I see you looking at the track ratings and saying to yourself, “BULLSHIT! There’s no way this album is that good!” To tell you the truth, I’m kinda thinking the same thing.

See, when you’re not listening to it, it’s easy to poke holes in this thing. It isn’t “art” (although, true to its post-punk moniker, it is vaguely “arty”.) It’s not particularly unique or original. It doesn’t have much variety, either&mdashjust one galaxy-crushing anthem after another. And it certainly isn’t all that mature; in fact, its teenagerness is an integral part of it.

Maybe if you can’t (or won’t) let out your inner teenager, you will dislike this record. But get into that mindset and put this record into your little disc-spinny thing, and you will understand. It’s like glimpsing, just for a moment, an alternate universe where Murphy’s Law works in reverse. Everything about it is honed to the sharpest edge imaginable. There is no room for criticism here. Sure, you can wish the band had been more ambitious, wish for a stunning new advance in the history of music, wish for many things, but that’s a waste of time. The Trail has fulfilled its ambitions here as well as any band ever has, and we, the listening public, are just corks bobbing in a sea of guitar pyrotechnics.

What is there to talk about? The orchestration? I really dig the way they use almost subliminal overdubs, with sometimes barely audible horns and strings and pianos that merge with the overall mass of sound to form nifty little touches of color.

The drumming? As usual, it’s fantastic—check out that driving pattern on “How Near How Far”, the tom rumble on “Another Morning Stoner”, the Keith Moon–style flailing rattle of “Monsoon”. No one in the band is a particularly skilled instrumentalist, so they really depend on the drums to hold things together, and thankfully, they are up to the task.

Lyrics? The band continues its love affair with over-the-top blood-soaked gothic imagery. They may not be the most sophisticated wordsmiths around, but they pull it off competently, and sing with such conviction that I can’t help but be won over, even when I’m not exactly sure what they’re raging against at the moment.

The esoteric avant-gardisms of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Slint, et al, have simply been rendered down into pure, perfect arena rock. And if I’m a fool for calling an arena rock album one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, then I’m a happy fool.

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ANOTHER MORNING STONER EP

2002; Rating: 2.46/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: ~ / Production: + / Innovation: +

  • 01 Another Morning Stoner [A+]
  • 02 Baudelaire (BBC live) [A−]
  • 03 Richter Scale Madness (BBC live) [B+]

Bonus tracks:

  • 04 Another Morning Stoner (video) [B+]

Hooray! Another Overpriced EP! (This one a British import.) The title track is a fine song that certainly deserves to be on as many CDs as they can press up, but I assume you’re here for the b-sides. This time, they’re pseudo-live cuts recorded with Mr. John Q. X. Peel, radio guy extraordinaire. The full session is, of course, floating around in mp3 format, but if you must have CD-quality versions of these two cuts, this is the place to look.

They’re pretty good performances—Baudelaire can’t hope to match the studio perfection of the album version, but it has its own charm. Richter Scale Madness, being a bit of an oldie, gets somewhat reworked here, to pretty good effect. Unfortunately, it’s rather slower than the original take.

Oh yeah, and there’s also the video for “Another Morning Stoner” if you play this on your computer. But the Secret of Elena’s Tomb EP compiles both of their videos in one place, making this one redundant.

Personally, I’d just as soon wait for the next dominant recording format to come along—say, a giant cube made of compressed chimps—and buy the inevitable “Trail of Dead LIVE at the BBC!!!” box set.

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SECRET OF ELENA’S TOMB EP

2003; Rating: 2.51/pi

Composition: + / Lyrics: ~ / Production: + / Innovation: +

  • 01 Mach Schau [B+]
  • 02 All Saints Day [A−]
  • 03 Crowning of a Heart [A]
  • 04 Counting Off the Days [B+]
  • 05 Intelligence [A−]

Bonus tracks:

  • 06 Relative Ways (video) [B+]
  • 07 Another Morning Stoner (video) [B+]
  • 08 All Saints Day (live video) [B+]

This thing is a bit of a disappointment. Of course, almost anything would be after the last album. This comes off like spring cleaning, the band unloading its store of odds and (dead) ends, like the awkward ballad “Counting Off the Days” and the dance-punk experiment “Intelligence”. “Mach Schau” feels like a half-successful throwback to the style of their first album. “All Saints Day” is pretty good, but easily the most conventional thing they’ve yet recorded. “Crowning of a Heart” is damn pretty though, with the group bringing out its rarely-heard vocal harmonies.

The other feature of the disc is a trio of videos, two canned and one live. I can’t say they’re all that inspired. It’s kinda neat to see the band in action, I guess, but the visuals don’t add much to the songs.

Fans will surely want to have this thing, but…you won’t find much magic here, just some hi-quality throwaways. Well, I guess that’s the point of a post-album stopgap EP like this one.

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WORLDS APART EP

2004; Rating: 2.60/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: + / Production: ++ / Innovation: ~

  • 01 Worlds Apart [A]
  • 02 Back in NYC [A]
  • 03 Porpoise Song [A−]

With their album delayed due to the usual record company shenanigans, the Trail has decided to put out a teaser single to keep their fans occupied for the next few months.

Unsurprisingly, the title track is a loud rock song, but beyond, there’s a very distinct difference between this and the band’s past material. This is in fact a catchy, fun, happy singalong that just happens to be a loud rock song. Well, it sounds happy, but the chorus you’re singing along with goes “How they laugh as we shovel the ashes of the twin towers / Blood and death we will pay back the debt of this candy store of ours.” So not that much has changed.

The b-sides are a pair of covers: “Back in NYC”, from Genesisiseses’ses rock-opera opus The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and the Monkees’ tragic psychedelia artifact “Porpoise Song”. Both are given the standard Trail of Dead treatment, loaded full of guitars, blown up to massive size, and sent lumbering off into downtown Tokyo. They don’t take any particular risks with either song, but they do make ’em sound good, which is nothing to be sneezed at.

So this is a damn fine single, short, sweet, and liable to get stuck in your head all day. But we all know the risk in creating music that depends on melody: if the melody isn’t compelling, you ain’t got shit. It remains to be seen how successful this new approach will be over the course of an album. Well, some of you may already know, but I’m trying to resist downloading the thing before it comes out. *sigh*

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