January 28, 2005

Shortcut - ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

Remember 2002? We were first-years; you sat next to me in math class. No? Anyway, it was a great year for music, and one of its best releases was the major-label debut of a little quartet from Austin, Texas. On Source Tags & Codes, Â…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead corralled the manic energy of their first two albums to create something bold and delicate, bombastic and reverential, cohesive and disparate. It was indie rock at full throttle, with emotions bleeding through churning guitars and varied time signatures. It was utterly pretentious and immodest and I loved it.

Just as I am nostalgic for the early '00s, Trail of Dead, and frontman Conrad Keely in particular, wish to recapture the best and worst of the '90s alternative rock wave. After drawing notably from Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, among others, for Source, the band found inspiration in the soft-rock and sap-rock of our generation. Worlds Apart is equally ambitious in its conceptualization, but far less convincing in its execution. The band hasn't aimed lower, just off the mark.

The record begins with great promise, as the first three tracks capture much of the earnest noise and arty gestures of Source. The Egyptian march of "Ode to Isis" perfectly introduces "Will You Smile Again for Me," which effectively apes the superfast-slow-superfast dynamic that worked so well in "It Was There That I Saw You." The title track waltz then fairly succinctly delivers the theme of the record: "What's the future of rock n' roll?" sings Keely. "I don't know, does it matter?"

Apparently not, as Keely and his band are content to pillage the recent past on the remaining tracks, capturing only its blandness as some homage to youth. Trail of Dead's melodies weren't that much better on Source, but at least it had the big noise and decent lyrics to bolster them. These are gone, as well as any semblance of unity that held together the jagged edges of Source. What's the good of reminiscing when you can't put your thoughts into a contemporary context? I guess that's why I don't bother to remember math class.