Mixed bag points to potentially exciting future
Repeat after me: I will not, under any circumstances,
play prog rock. If ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead has any
hopes of returning to its glory days, Conrad Keely and Co. should repeat this
phrase like a mantra, perhaps even write it a couple hundred times on a chalk
board a la Bart Simpson.
Sure, after the success of Source Tags and Codes, ...Trail
of Dead's experimentation with the prog-oriented side of indie rock seemed like a bold
move—a stylistic "fuck you" that rock 'n' roll hadn't seen since
Nirvana followed Nevermind with In Utero. And naysayers be
damned, ...Trail of Dead got one pretty good record out of the process, the
unjustly panned Worlds Apart. But as the band continued down the prog-rock
road, it dead ended, releasing the practically unlistenable So Divided,
an album impressive only in the fact that it was overloaded with so many bad
ideas. It seemed the scrappy band that once recalled Sonic Youth's most
explosive works had forgotten how to shut up and rock.
But after the band very publicly ditched Interscope,
there was hope. Without the major label cash cow, it only makes sense that band
would have to scale back some of its excesses. This is somewhat the case on
Festival Thyme, a stopgap EP that simultaneously displays the best and worst of
what ...Trail of Dead can do.
"Bells of Creation" starts off ominously
with the same generic alt rock flourishes that sunk So Divided. But this all
melts away at the 3:20 mark for a vintage ...Trail of Dead crescendo, the
likes of which we haven’t seen in a long, long time. It's a beautiful moment,
and if you listen hard enough, you can almost hear the faint echoes of guitars
getting smashed. "Inland Sea" follows and is certainly ...Trail of
Dead's most focused work since Source Tags and Codes, although Conrad's piano
fetish is still in full swing. The title track is something all together
different, a beautifully ebullient folk-rock track that's unlike anything the
band has put to tape. It's a brand new avenue that
would be exciting for the band to explore on an upcoming full-length.
But old habits die
hard, and Festival Thyme closes with "The Betrayal of Roger Casement
and the Irish Brigade," an overblown instrumental that might be listenable if
not for some seriously misplaced keyboard noodling. The song meanders through
a long series of poor decisions and then abruptly ends two minutes too late. Still,
for all its problems, Festival Thyme is the first step in the right
direction for a band that's been running headlong in the wrong direction for
the past five years. It'll be exciting to hear what comes next.
Listen to ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead's "Bells of Creation" from Festival Thyme: