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Four Horsemen of the Arockalypse
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: Source Tags & Codes
Posted: March 2,
Shifting from small label Merge to music industry heavyweight Interscope
doesn't appear to have softened Austin, TX-based indie rockers ...And You
Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (TOD). Source Tags & Codes, the
follow-up to 1999's Madonna, actually rocks harder, nearly rivaling
the group's 1998 self-titled debut in terms of sheer pulverizing intensity.
TOD's hardcore aesthetic, as defined by chief
lyricist/multi-instrumentalist Conrad Keely, has always come across as the
living embodiment of Sonic Youth's "Teen Age Riot." Indeed, Keely doggedly
pushes the boundaries of avant-thrash, as if he feels some transcendental
state is within reach, providing TOD can access the right mix of notes,
rage, and urgency.
Source Tags & Codes furthers the exploration of
religious/apocalyptic imagery that has colored TOD's work since its
inception, while adding critical commentary on the overly-bureaucratic world we
currently live in. "Days Of Being Wild" conveys a reckless sense
of living each day
as if there's no tomorrow. "How
Near, How Far" struggles to connect with the long dead, realizing the only
promise of reconciliation lies in an afterlife that's hardly guaranteed.
Musically, Source Tags & Codes is easily the band's most ambitious
work to date. A veritable army of session musicians bearing trumpets,
flugelhorns, violins, violas, cellos, hammered bells and tympani appears
throughout, threatening to overwhelm the basic drums, bass and two-guitar
assault. But the added weight of near-orchestral sonic arrangements enhances
rather than detracts from the overall atmosphere, creating a densely layered
work which remains abrasively doom-laden and razor's-edge focused throughout
its 45-minute-plus running time.
TOD doesn't mind aping key influences as well, as evidenced by the potent
"Another Morning Stoner," which borrows a little too closely from the
late-'80s guitar sound of Sonic Youth, and the rhythm-section dominated
"Baudelaire," which admirably mimics early Fugazi.
Surprisingly, the two standout cuts ("Relative Ways" and the title track)
are the album's softest, coming at the end, as if offering refuge from the
violent storm of brooding noise that precedes them.
TOD's strong suit has always been the intricate drum-and-guitar
hammerlocks that hold things together despite the chaos, coupled with an overweening
ambition to push the limits of traditional hardcore. The lyrics, however,
remain the band's weak link. "Heart in the Hand of the Matter" offers the
following view of holding on to love as the world ends: "Ride the
apocalypse/Coming through the city side/There is nowhere to hide/Ride the
apocalypse/Fallen angel no need to hide." "Monsoon" contains the painfully
clunky observation: "All of you people/Dream of the sandman/But the sandman
has turned to mud."
From its broad thematic scope to the intricacy of its song structures,
Source Tags is a definite step forward. Yet the idea of a distinct and
identifiable TOD sound still appears to be one goal that has remained
beyond the band's considerable reach.
Rumor has it that the groupís name derives from an ancient
prayer to Mayan corn gods, that goes something like this:
"Sever for us all ties/Between the now and what is to
be/We will act as your sword, oh Great Itzamna/And you will know us by the
trail of dead."
More likely, the band simply made it up, stringing together
ten words that worked well together. The actual truth may never be known.
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