Thursday, November 1, 2012

Trail Of Dead Wakes With Lost Songs

Trail of Dead
When Austin-based indie rock/punk/prog band ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (Trail Of Dead) released Tao Of The Dead, Jason Reece and Conrad Keely were mostly going it alone. Lost Songs finds them moving together effortlessly again, this time in several different directions.

While they started to write the album as a duo, they did so while living in different countries. Reece was home in Austin. Keely was living abroad in Cambodia, an experience that changed him and his world view. It changed him so much that Lost Songs isn't a fantasy. It's real life, cruel and course.

The change is reflected everywhere — in the theme, lyrics, and composition of every track. Most apparent, they shifted away from their signature symphonic sound to find a new sonic rawness. They also enlisted Autry Fulbright II on bass (who joined for Tao Of The Dead) and Jamie Miller (TheStart) on drums and guitar, freeing up Keely to play more instruments (guitar, piano, or drums) whenever he wants.

Lost Songs is urgent on world events and apathy.

There are no real analogies in Lost Songs. Everything is above board, fiery and direct. Ask Keely what a song means and he has an answer without so much as a blink.

"Up To Infinity is about the Syrian civil war," Keely said. "We believe tyranny and despotism suffered by people anywhere, is intolerable and should not be treated as an internal matter, but completely justifies intervention by the international community."

The song, Up To Infinity, was also dedicated to Pussy Riot, the feminist punk-rock collective in Moscow that saw three of its members arrested and prosecuted in Russia. They were charged with hooliganism after they entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and broke into an impromptu performance as part of a protest against the re-election of Vladimir Putin. Although Putin had asked the courts not to judge them too harshly, they were each given two-year prison sentences at a penal colony.

Up To Infinity is also a riveting romp with a few defused cathartic interludes before it erupts and then tapers off to set up the next track. The lyrics call for unbudging action against injustice, considerably more direct than their epic steampunk storyline last year. Catatonic is that direct too.

"The music was there first, and I kept thinking 'Catatonic Youth,'" Reece told RollingStone in a piece that has since been adopted as the band's Facebook bio. "We need something new every day, something to make us feel alive. That was kind of the impetus, the fuel for the song — that, in a sense, everybody's pretty complacent in America."

There is no denying that the entire album is overflowing with such social and political commentary, but Reece is also quick to point out they're asking questions more than preaching a point of view. In fact, finishing the album away from family and friends at a studio in Hanover, Germany, became a channel.

As a result, Lost Songs is an explosive album, among the most passionate that the band has ever put together. And even though Up To Infinity and Catatonic have garnered attention in interviews and with the dedication to Pussy Riot, the album is loaded down with more than two great tracks. Half a dozen of them are even better.

The balance of the album from Trail Of Dead.

The opener Open Doors truly sets the tone of the album, alluding to the idea of opening doors for others to walk through. There is also the newfound rawness in the sound and a greater emphasis on guitars. They strip back the next track, Idols Of Perversity, even further. It gives the entire song a throaty, bass-laden primal effect.

Pinhole Cameras quickly kicks up the urgency again. The track, which ticks off a thread theme similar to Open Doors with more depth, has become a personal favorite. It's about living with disinterested tunnel vision, and what it's like to take it all in without blinders.

Another timeless track from Lost Songs is Mountain Battle Song. It's best described as an even-paced, percussion-driven brooder that shares an anti-war sentiment against blind obedience and loyalty. It catches some attention and then compels people to listen.

Other highlights from the new album include Heart Of Wires, Lost Songs, and Opera Obscura. All three songs easily illustrate the diversely savage musicianship that Reece, Keely and company consistently have developed over the last year. In contrast, Flower Card Games drops down the pace but contains the same fervent message. Plenty of people like Time And Again too, but it doesn't fit.

Lost Songs By Trail Of Dead Bleats 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Lost Songs is masterful in a much different way from their overtly ambitious steampunk storyline. In focusing on real world problems, it's as if the band suddenly woke up with a mission. And even though there is a thinness in the overall theme — world leaders are making a mess of things and people are too petty and apathetic to notice — it still hits hard as an album spilling over with great music.

This review considered the 15-track deluxe album over the initial release. Lost Songs by Trail of Dead is available on Amazon. You can also download the deluxe album from iTunes. But given Keely's artistic eye, physical editions are generally worth it. So are the live shows.
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