…And You Will Know Us by the Trail Of Dead | Tao of the Dead (Richter Scale/Superball Music)

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So, not only has Keely penned one of the best hard rock albums ever, he’s introduced the sweaty twenty-somethings to Campbell’s massive theory of Myth.

 
 
 
 
 
Tao of the Dead is a hugely gutsy endeavor. It’s a thrilling, literary prog rock concept album by a legendary indie band in the tradition of Dark Side of the Moon. ….And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead stripped back down to a four piece, guitar-based monolith to record a masterpiece—and they did it in ten days. This record is not understated, it is not humble—it’s riveting, mouthy, ear-crushing and doesn’t offer one second to catch your breath. It’s tricky though, Tao of the Dead’s dreamy pop elements will make you forget you’re actually listening to an overwhelmingly powerful hard rock album. But that’s the magic that Trail of Dead pulls off better than any other act—and this is their best record.
 
If you’re not familiar with the “Music Critic Narrative” of Trail of Dead you’re lucky, because it’s way off base. Most critics would have you believe that Trail of Dead was a high energy (almost to the point of absurdity—I saw them completely demolish their entire stage set twice in one show, giving all of their broken instruments to members of the crowd both times) indie standout with a cult following. In 2002 they released Source Tags and Codes, which was a huge critical success (there was even an article in Vanity Fair) and catapulted them into international stardom. The narrative continues thus: Conrad Keely and company have been playing the role of Sisyphus, striving mightily and failing mightily with contrived sludge/prog anthems, looking to somehow create another classic album in the Source Tags model for the doomed entirety of their post-glory careers. It would be difficult to be much further off the mark.
 
The truth is, they’ve been the most innovative hard rock band of the last decade. I have a very hard time believing that most of these critics who’ve perpetuated the myth of fallen indie rock gods have ever gotten past the middle of the second track on Source’s follow up album, Worlds Apart. It was at that point that Trail of Dead emphatically declared that they weren’t interested in critical praise; they were interested in making great music. Worlds Apart was brilliant, but alas, a critical flop. As was So Divided (which includes a breathtaking cover of Guided By Voices’ “Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory”)—even thought it too was better than most anything else the genre was offering at the time. After that, the band parted ways with Interscope Records and gave the finger to the music industry in general. It was an elegant protest; they took a much-needed break, moved from Austin, TX to New York and regrouped to form their own label, Richter Scale. From there they quickly delved into new labyrinths of ultra contemporary prog rock with Century of the Self in 2008. This album was seen as a comeback of sorts, but it was really just another chapter in a wonderfully progressive novel. Source Tags and Codes does not define …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead—not even close. They are the frontier of hard rock, they are legends, and they are peaking in 2011.
 
I’m pretty confident that the serious listener will recognize Trail of Dead’s musical aims and influences on this record; they are obvious. Conrad Keely, who is also a budding novelist and visual artist, writes most of the music and lyrics. He’s the thinker behind this overtly literary work. I asked him to let me in on a little bit of his influences outside of music.
 
What are your influences outside of music: what larger ideas/themes do you consider when making your art, what lit have you been reading, what larger ideas are you grappling with?
 
Keely: That’s a big question you’re asking, so I hope I don’t ramble! When I moved to New York five years ago, I had an opportunity to divorce myself (at least temporarily) from my social life in Austin.  Being social was my full-time job.  So moving to New York, I decided to take a one-eighty and immerse myself in writing and reading.  I read every book I could get my hands on about writing.  Not just the technical aspects of writing a novel, but the entire philosophy behind building the story arc and developing themes—you know, that heavy shit.  This was all stuff I meant to apply to my own book, but somehow this translated very smoothly into the way I wanted to write music as well—to build upon a narrative seed and allow a story to unfold through a series of episodes. 
 
Tao of the Dead is, in fact, split in to two episodes. Part 1: Tao of the Dead, is a series of eleven connected and blistering pop tunes that seems like one giant 35-minute exploration into exactly what hard rock was always supposed to be. Part 1’s heavy fisted (but still pop-y) manifesto is, frankly, mesmerizing. These eleven songs have more depth and import than anything in Trail of Dead’s previous catalogue. You can listen to each individual track and fall in love with hard rock again. But I suggest listening to the whole part as one piece; you’ll become a devotee.
 
Part 2: “Strange News From Another Planet,” is one 17-minute track. It sounds like, well, strange news from another planet. Keely and company are interplanetary here, this track is as well crafted and very similar to Dark Side of the Moon, and it brings to mind the relentless magnetism of Sigur Ros’ ( ). There’s a palpable sense of levity and brightness in this part. Jason Reece’s vocal leads make a triumphant return here, which is good news for Trail of Dead junkies. The intricate guitar work and massive bass/drums foundation is fascinating. It’s incredibly refreshing to know that hard rock is still very relevant and very powerful. This part proves that without a shadow of doubt.
 
There is so much going on literarily on the album; when I asked about that point Keely gave me some great insight.
 
Keely: I became interested in the concepts Joseph Campbell wrote about in Hero of a Thousand Faces, about the Monomyth and the idea of character archetypes.  In my own fiction, I don’t think I use this as a strict rule, but rather I analyze my story afterwards to see how it fits in with the universal story of the hero’s journey.  That has seeped into my art as well.  I enjoy taking an old theme and reworking it…the myth takes on a new meaning in a modern world, where the ills of today’s society are quite different than those of the classical Greek society that produced it.  And yet it doesn’t lose any of its significance; in some ways it gains more significance when we apply it to our modern challenges.  We can see many environmental disasters we experience, like oil spills, as consequences of our opening Pandora’s box. I believe I even heard that analogy mentioned during the recent oil spill crisis. 
 
I think I heard that somewhere too. And it fits. So, not only has Keely penned one of the best hard rock albums ever, he’s introduced the sweaty twenty-somethings to Campbell’s massive theory of Myth. Sure, the throngs of rowdy, bouncing kids at their shows probably aren’t going to get this far—but if you give it a serious listen, you might. With Tao of the Dead, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have risen from indie rock legends to Rock Pioneers proper. This album deserves consideration of the hallowed title “Classic.” This work also posits an answer to the question, what is the difference between an artist and a craftsman? An artist doesn’t let their past works define their current works, a craftsman will find the apex early and keep running out the same old thing, over and over. That might work well for, I don’t know, very beautiful wooden birdhouses—but the concept of craftsmanship in music is boring. This album is not.  A+ | Braden Abbott
 
RIYL: My Bloody Valentine and Guided by Voices on steroids doing prog rock after spending a year in the library, Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, Coheed and Cambria, Yes
 
 
 
 
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