This layered Krautrock kind of vibe. We were thinking of Echo And The Bunnymen, Ocean Rain. These dense and bigger sounding albums. We were kind of into some 80’s music, Psychedelic Furs. Which is funny cause we’re not really a band that’s into the new wave sound, I don’t think we’ve ever made an 80’s sounding record. That’s kind of what we were jamming out to, the early 80’s sounds.
There are albums we hate, albums we like, albums we love, and then there are albums that meld sound and lyric so perfectly that it transcends those labels. It was in the right place at exactly the right time, maybe if it was from another era, we may not care so much, but it was just right. While history may not regard it so highly, for us, it is one of THE albums.
In 2002, hot off the heels of my love affair with techno and hip-hop, I was starting to rediscover a love for rock that I had dumped in the late 90s. I felt as it hardcore and emo were my (current) true calling, and could there be a more emo name than …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. So, I sat at a listening station in Tower Records and had my world shattered. This wasn’t metal, it wasn’t punk, it was just rock. Epic freaking ROCK!!! I listened to the entire Source Tags & Codes CD front to back in that torn faux leather bar stool. I drove around for at least a few hours afterwards, blasting it in my car (I lived with my parents so my car was the only place I could blast music). Portions or all of it have been on every mix CD I ever made and on every iPod I’ve ever owned. It’s never out of reach.
So, there we were. 2014. Trail of Dead reached the skyrocketing heights of popularity. Shows that were epic in scope and execution at venues with thousands of people. But, fame and popularity wane, even if the talent doesn’t. So, there we were. In the basement of some lofts, a few hundred of us, Conrad Keely taking inventory at the merch stand. In a short while, we would all be in the thick of it again. THE album.
If the crowds have shrunken, their love of them has not. While maybe not the best at the small talk shtick, when the instruments to the talking, everyone listens. Diving right in to “It Was There That I Saw You” Conrad, Jason Reece, Autry Fulbright, and Jamie Miller screamed and beat their way 12 years in to the past. The mildly frantic drumming of “How Near How Far” became downright desperate, while the howls of the “Electric guitar hanging to my knees” on “Relative Ways” was less lamentable and more a battle cry. The highlight, though, came on “Days Of Being Wild.” Jason decided that the planned theatrics were not going to do, stopped the song a minute in to the first part, put his guitar down, and started at the beginning while inciting a mosh pit, not taking no for an answer from anybody in the vicinity.
Yeah, there were some other songs played, they’re in the setlist below. They were good, but as the final chorus hits of the title track disappeared from my ears, not much mattered. I heard THE album.
It was a good 2013 for Philly indie-punk four piece Little Big League. The band released it’s debut full length, toured and garnered attention from national media outlets like Pitchfork. Now they’re playing their first headlining show at Johnny Brenda’s just in time for front woman Michelle Zauner to show off her new strat and the band to hopefully unveil some of the songs they’ve been tracking for album number two. Tickets and info can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
When …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead take the stage at Underground Arts on Wednesday, it will be to commemorate the kind of rock music moment that is now all but impossible. This performance inaugurates a small tour around the country celebrating the 12th anniversary of their landmark major label debut full-length, 2002’s Source Tags and Codes.
Already, this is a sort of bizarre event – who does 12th anniversaries? Is this some uniquely significant moment that an already cryptic and idiosyncratic act (all of their albums share a near-anthropological fascination with Asian, Indian, and pre-Columbian philosophical traditions) would be more likely to celebrate? Are they making some self-referential commentary on the process of bands from their era doing reunion tours around supposedly-landmark records by going outside of the normative time frame?
According to singer/guitarist/drummer Jason Reece, the explanation’s a bit more innocuous. “We meant to do it two years ago, but we couldn’t get it together [laughs]. Better late than never, right?” he explains over a crackling cell phone line. He’s caught up in what he describes as some “South-by s***”, his nonchalance apparent when he laughs off the missed opportunity of a ten-year anniversary. His is an indifference that most bands can’t even pretend to afford – dropping opportunities like this means missing out on tremendous press retrospectives, renewed interest in the music, picking up new fans, and all the trappings that come with these near-obligatory “where are they now?” kinds of tours.
Maybe the 42-year-old Reece is a little bit cavalier about what his band has accomplished. From the get-go, they have been very irreverent about the kinds of heights they hit – heights they could only dream of reaching at the strange moment in music history from which Source Tags and Codes was born. This band was otherwise not meant to hit it big. Everything they did, from their incendiary live shows (complete with equipment desecration) to the rotating frontmen to the impossibly long name, seemed like a challenge to the rock establishment. Before the current era of supermassive pop acts putting out intentionally limit-pushing music (what up Yeezus), bands like Trail of Dead (the most common abbreviation of their full name) were the best bet for listeners looking for an intellectually-based sonic assault on the pop mainstream; they were utilizing every resource they had to stick something in people’s faces. Just check out this absurd interview and performance from the short-lived Farmclub television show – the incongruity of the band’s conscious unravelling and the calculated sleaziness of the show’s cool-factor posturing is laughable today, but few bands could have hoped to be so outright confrontational at that time.
Fortunately for Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Codes is an unparalleled masterpiece of its time, an unbloated orchestral record during a time when punk bands weren’t supposed to be so worldly or indulgent. The sound that they developed on their first two indie-released full-length albums, 1998’s self-titled album and 1999’s Madonna, was opened up into something grandiose, cathartic, and incendiary. From the opening static hum and ear-blasting drop of “It Was There That I Saw You” to the string quartet refrain at the end of the album’s closing title track (structured around the refrain from “How Near How Far”), Source Tags and Codes was designed to push all boundaries. Trail of Dead established the template for punk to go prog and baroque in the service (not disservice) of righteous bombast; without Source Tags and Codes, bands as varied as Arcade Fire and My Chemical Romance might not been as popular as they are. Critics in the know were certainly paying attention, with Trail of Dead gaining one of early-era Pitchfork’s precious few perfect 10s and rave reviews from The Village Voice, Billboard, and the NME.
Perhaps characteristically, Reece acknowledges the impact that the album had on him and his bandmates while cautiously avoiding giving it too much of a broader importance. Continue reading →
Texas post-hardcore noisemakers …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead will revisit their 2002 opus Source Tags and Codes in a headlining show at Underground Arts on March 26th. The band had made considerable buzz in the indie-punk underground in the late 90s and early 00s, touring with The Dismemberment Plan and Queens of the Stone Age, as well as releasing well-received independent albums like Madonna; on Source Tags, the band made its major label debut and its hardest hitting record up to that point.
The band has released five albums in the time since; on its most recent outing, 2012’s Lost Songs, the track “Up To Infinity” was dedicated to Russian activist musicians Pussy Riot. They are reportedly working on a sequel of sorts to 2011’s Tao of the Dead, so new materials may be in the cards at the Underground Arts show, in addition to a revisit of Source Tags. Joining them are openers La Femme and Midnight Masses; get tickets and information at the XPN Concert Calendar and watch the music video for Source Tags’ “Relative Ways” below.
..And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead has a name that unravels as epically as its music, and is as lengthy as the band’s history. With a career that spans more than 17 years and seven albums, the story begins in Olympia, Wash., where in 1994 the band’s core members Conrad Keely and Jason Reece first started playing together. After moving to Austin, they would form Trail Of Dead. The line-up continued to grow, and in 1998 the band released its self-titled debut album, capturing the ears of epic rock lovers with wildly energetic shows. The group would shift through various record labels, including Trance, Merge and Interscope Records, until it created its own Richter Scale Records.
On this year’s LP, Tao of the Dead, the band teamed up with producer Chris Coady and tapped into a serious ’70s rock vein, from Pink Floyd, Yes, Neu! and the like. Conceptual in nature, the album is more of an unfolding two-part tale with melodic jam sessions that fit within the frame of several chapters and movements.
Can’t get out of the office tomorrow afternoon to see And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead perform a Free At Noon concert at World Cafe Live? You can see the post-hardcore act tonight (along with one of last year’s critics darlings, Surfer Blood) tonight at First Unitarian Church. Meanwhile, over at The Trocadero, Echo And The Bunnymen will be performing their first two classic albums, Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. (Didn’t win tickets to the show from our recent contest? Thankfully, the show hasn’t sold out yet.) And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, performs with Surfer Blood, True Widow, and Weekends at 8 p.m. at First Unitarian Church; tickets to the all-ages show are $13-$14. Echo And The Bunnymen perform with Kelley Stoltz at 8 p.m. at The Trocadero; tickets to the all-ages show are $30.
Also playing: J. Roddy Walston And The Business + These United States, TJ Kong & the Atomic Bomb at North Star Bar (8 p.m., 21+, $10)