Release Date: Nov 11, 2014
Record label: Superball Music
On this belting ninth album, …Trail Of Dead’s resurgence continues, further reining in the prog excesses that diluted their ’00s efforts (‘Source Tags & Codes’, ‘Worlds Apart’). Themed around death and loss, ‘IX’ sees the Texans at their most focused and thrilling. Portentous song titles and elemental imagery abound as ‘The Doomsday Book’ ushers in an opening sequence whose howling guitar and thunderstorm drumming recalls the promise of the Austin band’s early days.
Despite the critical controversy over their post ‘Source Tags & Codes’ output, Trail of Dead have pretty reliably been churning out experimental alt rock for the last ten years. In fact, though there have been ebbs and flows in their levels of aggression and tendencies towards post-rock or even prog eccentricity, since last album ‘Lost Songs’ they’ve been playing up to their former mantle of punk experimental mavericks with more determination than ever. While there are some tracks that feel distinctly like filler - ‘A Million Random Digits’ for instance being very much Trail of Dead by numbers - that’s the exception rather than the rule.
Trail of Dead IX. Sure, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Queen II, Zeppelin III, or Chicago 17. But, 20 years into their rollercoaster run, Trail of Dead can wear that nine like a badge of honor, considering there was a time when it didn’t look like they would make it far past album number three. And though bandleader Conrad Keely has said the new album’s title is really just a reference to a planet featured in Frank Herbert’s Dune, it nonetheless speaks volumes about the band’s current state—like the very Roman numeral that comprises it, IX suggests the arrival at a crossroads.
Considering the volatile, sometimes contradictory sounds and impulses ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead bring together in their music, it's remarkable that the band's track record is so consistent. However, on IX, their extremes meet in the middle in a way that often feels too balanced. The group's ninth album -- named not for its place in Trail of Dead's discography, but for a planet in Frank Herbert's Dune series -- doesn't aim to re-create the fervor of The Century of Self, Tao of the Dead, or Lost Songs.
After three solid albums of smoldering bliss, post hardcore/art/prog-rockers …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead experimented further, receiving mixed responses to their next five albums. The distinguished sound on IX feels like a combination of those latter albums — it's good, but it doesn't astound. The band's predilection for the eclectic is apparent on the 20-minute "Tao of the Dead part III" and "Sound of Silk," with its tribal-meets-Celtic breakdown, which transitions abruptly into a spoken word rant (a tactic employed far more successfully on "Days of Being Wild").
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead co-founders Conrad Keely and Jason Reece have been fighting an uphill battle against critical opinion for almost a decade now. The shadows of the critical acclaim for 2002’s Source Tags and Codes (which sadly did not make PopMatters’ recent list of Top 100 Albums of the 2000s) and the subsequent critical excoriation that 2005’s Worlds Apart and 2006’s So Divided received have loomed over the band ever since. It’s made them somewhat of a pariah amongst certain indie rock crowds, who seem to regard them as a one-album wonder who’ve never been able to recapture the magic.
Every time I hear the word “epic” used to describe a piece of music — be it an album, a song, or even a guitar solo — a part of my soul reflexively shudders. It wasn’t always this way. For proof, let’s travel back to February of 2002 and the release of Source Tags & Codes, the major label debut of an Austin-based band called …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.
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.
If nothing else, it’s an achivement in itself that this band has managed to last as long as it has with a name like . . .
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead IX (Superball) For 20 years, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead has barreled head first into each of its musical immersions. Over the course of nine albums, the Austin quartet has ratcheted punk, baroque pop, and prog, often all at once. Now, after years of album-length genre-bending, the band's settled on a thundering happy medium with IX.
When …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead erupted in the mid-90s, it was a noise-driven ensemble reflecting not only the AmRep-inflected postpunk of the underground, but also the dissonant rock tradition (Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers) of its Austin homebase. Yet the shapeshifting quartet’s evolution into a full-on progressive rock band has been so subtle it went almost unnoticed, at least until its 2011 two-disk magnum opus Tao of the Dead. IX, which is indeed the band’s ninth album, continues the band’s prog odyssey, with sweeping melodies, widescreen arrangements and fantasy-based graphics that celebrate heroines and the feminine mystique in general.
On their ninth album …And You Will Us By The Trail Of Dead are steadily continuing their journey towards being a Normal Rock Band, but remain unable to quite finish it. As far back as their first album they've been touring the various hotspots of psychedelia, punk, classical and world music, all with a maniacal, effervescent touch. Accuse them of failing at some of these stylistic endeavours, fine - but to their immense credit, they've never been mere genre dilettantes.