And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Tao Of The Dead
Deep, analogue bass pulse through and around your inner ear. At the same time, a half spoken/half sung monologue conjures cosmic imagery in a low whisper before the guitar crackles like an old photograph lit on fire descending into a pink nose reminiscent of the ending of "Karma Police." Before long, the noise stands aside for a bright acoustic guitar confidently strumming sunny chords before they themselves are standing aside for a blast of thick, forward-leaning distortion.
If all that sounds like an exhilarating experience, it often is and you should sprint to your local record store and pick up Tao of the Dead. And if you think that sounds like a formless, chaotic mess, well, it's that too and you and I should totally party because we think a lot alike.
Even by the ADD addled, too-many-studio-toys Pro Tools-modern standards, this is a restless album. It's progressive to be sure, but that's not especially new. That's a direction Trail of Dead has been heading for some time. The music is joyous first and sort of pointlessly fidgety second. There seems to be little agenda from moment to moment (the demarkations of the songs themselves aren't exactly arbitrary, but they're close) other than to do something different because they did the same thing for too long consecutively.
It seems it's not enough to move to a B section with a new melody or arrangement. Why not just announce it with an unexpected blast of feedback and an enormous slow-down in tempo? Ideas are never bad in that it's always better to have too many than not enough but when you try to do everything you're not really doing anything and frankly, Trail of Dead spend a good portion of the Tao of the Dead trying to do everything with a playbook that's actually pretty limited. After the 5th sudden breakdown into crashes on every downbeat and the 4th descent into electronic pads and beeps it gets a touch wearying.
Ironically, for such a self-consciously 2011 album, the big choruses, when they do come occasionally, have a very 90s alt-nation vibe - Smashing Pumpkins with a slight Jane's Addiction flavoring. But that's part of the grandiose charm. It IS joyous and that makes it much pleasurable an experience than it would have been had they used the same tactics to make a dark or muddy record. Tao of the Dead is never, ever muddy; it's clean in it's production. Maybe pathologically so... clinical, even, like an early Minus the Bear effort.
I'm at once having a hard time finding a kind word to say about the emo-elderstatesman's effort. but at the same time, I can't say I didn't enjoy it and maybe that's the lesson to be taken away: If you do something and don't succeed but do it enthusiastically and joyfully it will make for a pleasurable experience.
But it won't necessarily be good art.
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