Austin, Texas’ …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (or Trail of Dead as they’re usually known for the sake of brevity) have never had the commercial success to match the hyperbole that greeted their second album ”Madonna” or the critical acclaim that met follow up “Source Tags and Codes”. Part of the reason is possibly that they have never had many big stand-out tunes or obvious singles, instead they have created fabulous sounds, mostly bedded in a dense, seething psychedelia.
Their reputation was largely made on their frantic and confrontational live shows with main men Jason Reece and Conrad Keely constantly swapping instruments and with sets culminating in the trashing of their gear. With ”IX”, and yes it is their ninth album, the band have destroyed the notion of the band just being a reliable live act or that perhaps any creative peak may have come and gone. ”IX” is packed from beginning to end with memorable tunes, puckish invention and spiky dramatics. It’s one of those rare records where every track seems better than the last and has me constantly hitting repeat play, marvelling as each song in turn becomes my new favourite.
The sound is a mix of melodic post-grunge, a la Buffalo Tom and Afghan Whigs, predictable echoes of Sonic Youth‘s left field guitar experimentalism, less expected glimpses of The Horrors stadium goth rock and ever present psychedelic, vapour trails of latter-day Beatles.
I have played this album as much as any this year, in part to try and divine it’s magic: It’s constituent parts are fine but hardly an unusual or ground breaking mix and although the performances are superb, I’d expect little else. As accomplished as the song writing is (and every track is excellent) it is the perhaps the detail that elevates ”IX” into the realms of classic album. It feels designed, not in a calculated way (although of course it is) but as if it is an organic entity with DNA coding guiding it’s path. The music grows and evolves outwards towards the listener. Every song blooms and then mutates until its genes are subtly altered and it becomes something else and then the evolution continues. When the shredding guitars burst into life near the end of ‘Lie Without A Liar’ the song is changed in some small way, and it briefly plays out in a more restless fashion, as if a mutation has occurred and now the music is ready to move on – and so it blooms into the beautiful ‘The Ghost Within’.
Every moment is fantastic but the way the album moves from the smoky, sweet reminiscence and regret of ‘The Dragonfly Queen’ into the huge surging cello led instrumental of ‘How to Avoid Huge Ships’ and then into the dizzying rock travelogue of ‘Bus Lines’ has the epic sweep of a great American novel. This is story telling on a grand scale.
I am lucky enough to have been given a digital copy of this album to review, but I have ordered a physical copy as I’m hoping to be able to go deeper, hear more, get a fuller experience.
”IX”? I give it a ten.