Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Shawn Biggs at Studio Paradiso, San Francisco, California
The same droning, quick and easy points are continuously made about certain musical groups - man-made creations that are ideally exempt from the most stringent of applicable conditions and realities - and they are often as pointless and forgettable as airplane barf bags. They couldn't hold anything were there any real substance coming upon them. They are the hooks and the lines cast about to draw people into the deeper waters, but they really can be taken through the shredder in short order when that's been accomplished. You can almost hear the gimmick say, "See, that wasn't so bad, was it? You like waterslides and bungee-jumping after all don't you?" tossing away the waders and water wings as the people splash away or glide. It walks into the distance quietly, leaving them with their Marco Polo and diving board, which is now a beehive.
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead is - but most appropriately was in the far distant past -- an intensified abomination of the rock and roll legend making that needs to be pulled off before a legend's actually been made so that someone pays attention. The Austin-based band didn't purposefully deceive. The name is partially factual and partially skewed, suggesting an audio bloodbath that is going to reign and reign and bleed the enamel from your teeth, the shine from your hair and burn the hair from your legs. It's not a band that dispenses green syrups and liquids onto is anxious audience, but the forecast for potential issues of foreboding and nasty apocalyptic trashings of mind, body and soul are real concerns - just like bird droppings and locking your keys in your car. They can do that - gladly - but the impulse is to stump your insinuations.
The band made its young name as temperamental destroyers, who shredded their instruments as if they were no longer needed, just punishably unwanted. They performed the act religiously and their status as live performers grew to great proportions, but without the appropriate context, all of that flim flam, kindling and rubble-making would be grotesque and carnival-esque. It becomes homogenized ripping and snorting, doesn't it? - a factory job, an assembly line of thrown about pieces and parts and no functionality. The band's raging burn is collected in letters licked shut by the fires of hell, but the mail carrier is somewhat more angelic, delivering them with trumpets (not real trumpets) and more of the sweetened magnificence of give and take. Jason Reece sings more than he growls and there are more tender moments than there are forceful beatings. The band - with twice the percussion, which actually comes off as four times the percussion - is similar to a tattooed arm on the nicest gentleman in the world - or maybe on Frank Sinatra - or the prettiest girl, out of place and yet the artistic clash is an intriguing jolt of new thought.
Reece sings, "Remember all the bad dreams/They're not far from your reality," and the effect is not frightening, just a friendly reminder, almost a lullaby that's meant to take you by the hand and lead you through the sketchy parts of town, like any good friend would do in an unfamiliar city. There is no ravaging, no savage slayings or killing sprees, just that understandably debilitating suggestion that things aren't so bright, the bleakness of what we're all going through is more permanent than a stain. It's the world's weakness - an immune system that still hasn't found a defense or a cure for its common cold symptoms of squalor, disappointment and rampant sensations of being fraught with leeriness of the impending worst-is-yet-to-come. No matter what, Trail of Dead tells us, there are too many aspects to how we operate and who we want to be that are so far out of our control to ever get cocky or arrogant. It's wicked and twisted and everything predictable, in a funny, depressing way. It's that fantastic tendency for tension to draw our attention, not the snapping of guitar necks and stabbing of snares.
*Essay originally published in March, 2008
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