Interview: Trail Of Dead’s Triumphant Return in The Century Of Self

—by , February 27, 2009

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of DeadOvercoming extreme adversity and a healthy dose of animosity, proggy Texas-sprung hardcore experimentalists, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, have picked up the pieces and moved on. Fully revitalized and free from major label concessions, they’ve returned strong with the mindful self-released reclamation, The Century Of Self.

Formed by two waywardly kindred souls determined to forsake Hawaiian “island fever” by going inland, Trail Of Dead’s Conrad Keely and Jason Reece soon trekked to Olympia, Washington, playing in local bands until the nearby Seattle scene, once internationally revered, went cold. After the grunge phenomena faded and provincial mentor Kurt Cobain committed suicide, a dark cloud hovered over the Pacific Northwest. According to Keely, “Doom and gloom hit so hard many bands moved away.” Keely and Reece took residence in musical hotbed, Austin, Texas, perusing the vibrant coffeehouse scene benefiting dozens of native bands.

Born in the United Kingdom, raised in Thailand, and uprooted to Hawaii, Keely received a long musical tutelage in Washington. While there, Keely witnessed the impending grunge scene firsthand, catching a badly attended local show featuring the Melvins, Beat Happening, and the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Nirvana, during 1988. This exposure to the burgeoning cultural phenomena in Seattle provided plentiful stimulus for his inevitable endeavor.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, whose protracted appellation was snatched from a Mayan ritual chant as a reactionary response to one syllable contemporary bands such as Blur and Hum, came into fruition quickly in the Texas capital. Joining the fray were guitarist Kevin Allen, bassist Neil Busch (replaced by Danny Wood, then Jay Phillips), and drummer Aaron Ford.

An incredible live band apt to wreak havoc, break instruments, and overwhelm audiences, Trail Of Dead eventually signed to Merge Records, blowing away audiences while opening for renowned Carolina indie combo, Superchunk. Lacing prog-rock intricacies into energized punk assaults, ‘99’s astounding Madonna proved to be an expert blend of metallic guitars, symphonic explorations, and psychedelic intrigue that went far beyond generational post-grunge angst. Perchance a spunky response to Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” satirical hard-driven rampage, “A Perfect Teenhood,” is an explosive fuck-off with a disconcerting meltdown utilizing the same fast-loud choruses and slow-soft verses Nirvana indelibly employed. The frightful epileptic screams buttressing squalling feedback-laden breakdown, “Totally Natural,” musters perplexingly brain-twisted anguish, funneling Fugazi and Minor Threat’s devious ‘80s-based emotional hardcore desperation through Nirvana’s equally gruesome arsenal raids.

Fans and critics alike hailed the bands’ savage concert performances and were awestruck by Madonna’s primordial creative brilliance. Then, the majors came knocking in the form of Interscope Records. The resulting album, Trail Of Dead’s time-honored Source Tags & Codes, exceeded expectations, bringing further clarity and uniformity to the adrenalized ensemble by intensifying the taciturn pauses with rapturously raucous recoveries. The toxic “Another Morning Stoner” invites comparisons to foremost noise-rock kingpins, Sonic Youth, an obvious Reece influence. The same goes for the buzzing six-string scrambler bearing the name of decadent French poet, “Boudelaire.” Similarly, atomic powderkeg, “Days Of Being Wild,” plies mangled shrieks to a lashed-out anthem saluting adolescent rage. Audaciously seething manifesto, “Mark David Chapman,” the lone Busch composition, caused outrage since its objectionable namesake cold-bloodedly murdered John Lennon.

But times got tough. Continuing to storm the broken barricades of conventionality while heading for a confounded detour betwixt with tribal, Medieval, and tropical wildlife sounds, ‘05’s over-intellectualized Worlds Apart came up short as a premature magnum opus. Its ranting title cut cuts too close to neoteric emo as suburban worries concerning BBC, MTV, and celebrity status get snippily bashed. Thankfully, it’s meant as a snippy rip instead of a droll homage. Elsewhere, interconnected drawn-out mantras rule the roost, but some prolonged exoduses barely escape melodramatic mush.

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