Sunday, 18 November 2012

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Lost Songs

 

Ever since the release of 'Source Tags & Codes' in 2002, Austin's second-biggest rock explosives ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have continued to put out one remarkably confident, remarkably daring, remarkably far-flung rock album after another. Their aesthetics in hardcore extroversion and post-rock experimentalism has created a truly recognizable identity for the Texan five-piece and while said mix does hint at some risky imbalances - and even riskier off-sets of coming across as too rowdy and too unfiltered in its substance - the band still manage to find a sort of loud yet controlled sense of exploration in their music. 'Lost Songs' in name could potentially come across as a sort of rediscovery of a more manic side to the band, showcasing perhaps their sound in as a raw and as unfiltered an expression as it can be. What the band's eighth studio album is, in actuality, is quite possibly their most mature and down-to-Earth forward-thinking record in their entire discography.

So to kick off the album - and away from the fixed recurrence of album openers either being narrow then widening or direct that soon becomes ambiguous - 'Open Doors' provides us with a much more straightened sound. Guitars and drums are less wild and all-over-the-place and get straight to the point in what exactly they're trying to execute. And while the sound does create a sort of blurred palette, it's Conrad Keely that act like a knife cutting straight through all the fog and clouds of heavy riffs and dense percussion - his accompaniment with the music works rather well given how the mixing of the track somewhat limits the vocal appeal. 'Pinhole Cameras' thereafter steps up the pacing and overall tempo, the music now shifting starkly into a faster execution of heavy and thunderous guitars as much as they then turn to gliding across in strings and notations alike. It feels ever more like something I'd expect from a Mogwai album - that same compelling outward-bound revealing of sound present here as it is on the Scots' discography.

It's hard to talk specifically about the lyrics and the actual concepts that may or may not be present on this album because it's at times, obscured so much by the abruptness in which the music presents itself. Nevertheless, Keely's voice and the wild navigation of it provides some eagerly rough textures which, for a band such as this, is as much a unique take as it is an extreme contrast. The intensity as well as the presentation on a track like 'Opera Obscura' come off as a balancing act, but one that actually does rather well in creating as much a rhythmic piece as it does compel the listener with the actual music. There's more of a direct and responsive attractiveness to Heely's vocals for the first time in ages, and it sits neatly alongside the increasingly built-up tension of the track. 'Lost songs are going nowhere/Lost for words with nothing to share' Heely begins on the album's self-titled track which despite lasting no more than two minutes works really well in maintaining this discussed balance of drive and appeal. The guitars again do their job in reaching the right notes and the right chords at the right time, but unlike previous tracks they don't end up becoming too indulgent or bloated that it prevents Heely from rediscovering his voice's more honest and refined corners.

That's not to say that the band do well when deciding on going for it with the guitars and drums, because like I've noted, the band do a good job with implementing different scopes of rock into their identity. 'A Place To Rest' has these swaying bursts of energy that borrow from sub-corners of punk, post and even the art side to the sound to create something that has as much extremity as it does soul. Heely's voice here provides less clarity to its lyrics and more on the harshness of its tone and its dynamics, Heely himself becoming a sort of instrument that bellows itself amidst the strums and strikes of guitars. And even when his vocals return a sense of clarity to them - even if the amount gained is minimal - track like 'Heart Of Wires' still have a reasonable swing of a rhythm and tempo to it that it strengthens the unity between vocals and instrumentation. There's less of an absurdity as to how far the band go in pitch and actual texture, but this lesser take on the music's edge and variance works remarkably well. What deters it from simply resorting to sounding like another one of those mid-noughties indie bands is that what textures the band do decide in applying, are indeed applied in thick slabs of fuzz and other effects. It's shown ever more when you get to a chorus drop and Heely's unleashing of vocals alongside the jagged stampede of guitars sounds truly on edge.

But away from the collective side to the band's sound, when there are individual stand-out instrumentation - such is the case with 'Catatonic' and its brooding inflated guitar riff that frantically plays both in the foreground and the background of the track - it only adds to the intensity in rhythm the band feel ever more suited to, while at the same time never losing sight of keeping to something a lot more humane and understanding in its complexity. Not that I'm stating this works much better than the band's established sound prior - or even that it works flawlessly from start to end - but coming from a collective of musician who have known for being colorfully directive and navigating in their sound, it's pleasing to hear a sound that sounds a lot more honest and respectful of itself. 'Awestruck' is another highlight to the Texan's differentiating because as Heely himself comes to the point of proclaiming to 'get awed, get awestruck', the snapped bursts of guitars and almost startled change in pace only brings focus back to the album's overall shift to something a lot more personal and emotive. And even though the lyrics don't really advance any further thereafter, it's the vibrant guitar strings that make this track such an embracing listen.

Anyone who prefers albums keeping to the same form of momentum - and maybe even keeping to the same linear pattern of thought - may be startled, to say the least, at the album's constant off-road maneuvers in its tempo and its build, and admittedly there are points on this album that run the risk of losing control or simply sounding way too extrovert for their own good. 'Bright Young Things' may sound more unexpected than it should feel primarily for its placement on the album - especially straight after a track like 'Awestruck' - and that's potentially down to how far or fast it seems to be traveling as a track on its own. With 'Time And Again' the album ends on a somewhat speculative cause for discussion regarding where the band find themselves identity-wise. While the track sends us off satisfied in this very bumpy hill-sloped run of bass and guitar strings, Heely's vocals are the centre of attention here. What starts off as a recollection of some less-intimate romanticism, the lyrics start to shift to something more personal and acceptive. Acceptive, as we soon realize, of something that could have a wider implication: 'To have our best put to the test and knowing that we'll fail to adapt' he ends before whaling the title words in that familiar cry for detailing.

It is in this case one of those moments where if it's not them drawing the debate, then it's most certainly us who'll end up doing it eventually. The sounds on 'Lost Songs' certainly show a drastic change to not just the mentality of the band, but also the way in which they perceive the World around them. It wavers between maturity and surprise; being something of an acceptance and a partial denial in equal measure, and the way the band orchestrate this to encompass it in their sound works surprisingly well. Just like the album cover and how that alone can be deemed a major contrast to their discography, the record itself feels as far removed from their previous all-in guns-blazing spectrum of appliance. Here, the appliance of guitars, drums and vocals that all seem to have a hell of a lot of momentum going forward, avoid (for the most part) running off the humane path. It all comes and goes together as one, rather than darting in all directions. And the varying execution in the music's dynamics and arrangements provide some interesting interaction between the music and, more importantly, Heely's less abstract and more concentric form of lyricism.
~Jordan

7.9

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