6.5
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...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: Festival Thyme

[Richter Scale/Justice]

November 25, 2008  |  11:00am
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: <em>Festival Thyme</em>
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:

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