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...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Source Tags & Codes

So, the major-label debut. The final transgression of the indie-rock band. Surely, a bleak future lies ahead. Gone are the days of playing to your friends in the punk clubs. Adios to the self-pressed 7-inches, the homemade T-shirts, the scabies-infested couches. Quite simply, aloha — goodbye, and hello.

Hello to the all-night champagne soirees ("More, sir?" "More? Of course, more! And fill the bathtub with it!"), the at-the-snap-of-the-fingers limos ("Just keep driving me around the block. I don't think I can stand up yet"), the portable hot tubs ("Just wheel me to the car. I don't think I can stand up yet"), the long-legged models ("You should come back to my place; have you ever seen a mansion built out of leather?"), the free designer clothing ("We'd love to see you in our new stuff. Just let us send over the whole line." "Well, I just did a benefit, so right now I can't wear fur. Get back to me in the spring."), the dalliances with Satanism ("This doesn't taste like real blood..."), the heart-seizing mounds of drugs ("I'm going to be up for a few days — I'll need models sent over. And a respirator.")

Indie-rock stalwarts too often claim, when their most beloved bands sign their souls away to the great green-backed god of the major labels, that they've been deserted — that they, the band's true fan base, have been left behind for the arena-rock crowd. To deal with the coming pain, these fans usually desert the band before they have a chance to be hurt; it's a difficult breakup. Old records are sold back to the stores, and those words — those words — are finally uttered: "Sell out."

And it's absolutely stupid.

Especially now, when the legendary ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have released their major-label debut, singularly their finest record to date and the most blistering, blissful album to be released by anyone in years.

Long renowned for their incendiary live shows and penchant for violently, physically tearing through the perceived wall between stage and audience, the Trail of Dead offer the future, not of rock 'n' roll, but of something altogether more inspirational and engaging in Source Tags & Codes.

Shrieking, sliding, acrobatic guitars meander over and under a pounding rhythm in the teeth-shattering opener, "It Was There That I Saw You." Bursts of energy are balanced with a beautiful, lazy interlude, which has an effect of creating a real anticipation of the other shoe dropping. Conrad Keely's vocals have reached a new sense of timing and control (well, controlled chaos), seen here and on another album standout, "Another Morning Stoner." The latter features a relentless guitar line and lush background orchestration — which is well used and subtle throughout the whole of Source Tags & Codes.

The next track, "Baudelaire," is a deceptive rocker. Seemingly straightforward, yet resolutely disorienting, it's an outstanding number, with rousing vocals from Neil Busch. Another standout, easily. For those keeping track, that's three for three. Three utterly brilliant songs in as many tries.

"Homage," already known and loved by those who've heard the Relative Ways EP, is pure, adrenalized punk rock balanced with, uh, really quite beautiful piano/guitar interjections and Jason Reece, screaming his head off like a madman one minute, then crooning the next. Four for four.

"How Near, How Far" is one of the most addictive songs on the album. Stunning lyrics and vocals from Keely ("She stands with arms stretched out/ Towards the mountains and the clouds/ Oil-painted eyes/ They cry and hypnotize/ I swear I know not why/ Those eyes have always left me dry"). And more strings! And horns! Too much to describe. An amazing song, beginning to end. Everything you could ever want out of anything ever.

Reece returns with a more somber piece, "Heart in the Hand of the Matter." Again, subtle orchestration and perfect performances from the whole band. Chiming pianos, a driving rhythm. We get a short break before the beginning of "Monsoon," an epic track if there ever were one. Neil's vocals soar over the (somewhat) diverging, exploratory tune before the numbing, crushing coda that leads us into Reece's stirring "Days of Being Wild." Chanted, screamed back-up vocals, sheer wall-of-sound guitars and drums. This is a fun song that doesn't give you a minute to comprehend what you've just heard — straight into the dramatic "Relative Ways." A pounding riff, Kelly's plaintive vocals ("If it takes a life or a couple of days/ It's coming together in relative ways."), and an intense, consistent build-up to the end — and a final discharge of intensity. The sumptuous, instrumental "Relative Ways Segue" finally lullabies us into the album closer, "Source Tags & Codes."

On an already stellar record, the final, title track is an incredible reminder of everything you think you may have just heard, eliciting an emotion you haven't yet had a chance to sit back and reflect upon. A gorgeous wonderful, powerful release of all the feelings they've worked you up into. Again, an intensity, perfectly timed vocals from Kelly; also, they very clearly tie the entire album together with a nice postscript at the end of Source Tags & Codes.

Every track is extraordinary. A palpable excitement is present throughout the whole of the record, something that, despite all these efforts, is happily, essentially indescribable.

And it's absolutely perfect.

by Andrew Womack

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