October 24, 2012

Album Review: ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Lost Songs

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have undergone more internal metamorphoses throughout their nearly 20-year-long career than most bands would probably prefer, yet consistency has remained the one constant for the Austin art rockers regardless of their professional switch-ups. At its core, founding members Conrad Keely and Jason Reece have navigated the ship through rising indie success, rocky major label waters and ultimately, its current return-to-form again as an independent act with a revolving cast of band mates on each new effort. Now a quartet featuring Jamie Miller of theSTART and Autry Fulbright of Midnight Masses, Reece has gone on to say ...Trail of Dead is "finally becoming a band again," and while their latest effort Lost Songs exposes the pitfalls of reconstructing your game plan from the ground up, the intensity and excitement in their 8th studio effort at least guarantees ...Trail of Dead will live to fight another day.

Disconnect and cultural freedom are the core concepts behind Lost Songs. Conrad Keely had been living in Cambodia while Jason Reece was still living in Austin when they began working on the LP, and with their new recruits in tow, they later relocated recording sessions to Hanover, Germany. Isolated from American culture, their alien international surroundings certainly influence the album's lyrical and emotional context, focusing on political and humanitarian disparities across the global front such as tyranny and war. Said Keely early on of the writing process, "The music was inspired by the apathy to real world events that has plagued the independent music scene now for over a decade," dedicating the effort to recently imprisoned Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot.

Lost Songs' early standouts "Up to Infinity" and "Catatonic" are fiery, invigorated testaments to merging music with these beliefs, but amidst a piling collection of 16 tracks that indulge heavily in the many experimental corners of their soundscape, some of that urgency's impact ends up burning away before it hits your speakers. Chancing exploration is something ...Trail of Dead tend to do well, but the punk-ier areas that momentarily beckon back to Source Tags and Codes put so much emphasis in creating short, angry, impressive revolts (the thumping title-track, the German-speaking "Vercshollene Songs," "Opera Obscura") it leaves the greater whole sounding tired when it stretches into axe-wielding prog-metal meltdowns ("Flower Card Games," "Awestruck," "Mountain Battle Song") or the few uncharacteristically unplugged moments that bring anything new out of ...Trail of Dead's arsenal on this output ("Time and Time Again," "Skywhaling.")

The punk and political fervor behind Lost Songs provides ...Trail of Dead a fresh purpose to achieve with their music, yet the newest assembly of the Austin outfit doesn't sound focused enough at this point to tie it together, making for the shiftiest and most transitional listen in the band's catalog since So Divided. Variation can reap successful results (last year's excellent Tao of the Dead actually seemed like they had this figured out,) but even Lost Songs deluxe edition, featuring a "segued" version of the album prog-ified without pause, doesn't do much to cover up the cracks along the surface. Without cohesion to act as its adhesive, most of the important messages behind these Lost Songs end up falling on deaf ears.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Lost Songs is available now on Richter Scale / Superball Records.

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