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Sunday, September 6, 2009

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: Madonna


1) And You Will Know Them By The Trail Of Dead; 2) Mistakes & Regrets; 3) Totally Natural; 4) Blight Takes All; 5) Clair De Lune; 6) Flood Of Red; 7) Children Of The Hydra's Teeth; 8) Mark David Chapman; 9) Up From Redemption; 10) Aged Dolls; 11) The Day The Air Turned Blue; 12) A Perfect Teenhood; 13) Sigh Your Children.

The band's second album feels like it was recorded during the same session as the first one — maybe this explains the minimal gap in time between the two. Amazingly, I have encountered opinions that state it represents "a huge leap in quality" over the self-titled debut; my brain is un­able to fathom this, as I do not hear a single serious difference. Same low quality production, same reliance on a juxtaposition of chainsaw buzz and jangle as the main musical backbone, same — already almost annoyingly — predictable alternation between slow/moody and fast/hard­core, same punk guy shouting instead of singing. The only technical difference is that the songs are generally shorter — but, on the other hand, there's more of them, and I have a hard time tell­ing when one is over and the next is on anyway.

I can sense a deep desire to shock and impress, and I am happy for those who are shocked and im­pressed; but I myself can only shrug my shoulders. I was never a big fan of the Cranberries' 'I Just Shot John Lennon', but it was an interesting and coherent statement all the same, after which naming one of your songs 'Mark David Chapman' and leading it off with lines like 'We pierced the side of the idol / With the sharpened neck of an electric guitar' seems sort of... expendable, to put it mildly. Especially when the song has nothing interesting to say in terms of melody.

Yes, it is fairly certain by now that this band is trying out something new — the Austin guys are always compared to Sonic Youth, whose brand of avantgarde experimentation they are so bravely trying to sew unto the regular hardcore spine. For the attempt, they deserve respect. In the eyes of those who think it works, they deserve love. I stand on the other side of the fence, hand in hand with those who think it does not work — not one second of the time. That there are no memo­rable melodies should be taken for granted, but neither is the atmosphere captivating, since most of this racket is just pointless noisemaking. Maybe we can all upgrade our level of smartness and say that, well, the point of the record is pointless noisemaking, so that it quite wonderfully achie­ves all its goals. Maybe — but I am well behind that level of abstraction.

Since I cannot think of anything good to say about the record, let me just quickly give it an expected thumbs down and turn this over to an ano­nymous fan reviewer on a well-known Internet site. Excerpt:

«A song such as 'A Perfect Teenhood', morphing elegantly out of the unstintingly gothic and funereal piano interlude 'The Day the Air Turned Blue', embodies the spirit. It's an oscillating storm of sibilant melody and breakneck punk riffage.When a sudden landslide of drums and vitreous chords halt the pellmell first movement, there's a moment to catch your breath in the shimmering, seesawing euphonies, but not for long. Tommy gun! bloodlust! a perfect teenhood! chants Keely, before declaring, perhaps unsurprisingly given the title, "Fuck you!" He bawls the evergreen mantra of youth about fifty times in the climax, his vocals pitching like a trawler on the ocean amid the clarion chords and, in fact, the sound mixer fades him out after a bit as if he's embarrassed at the sudden outburst of earthy language, then fades him back in a moment later as if to say to the listener, "Yep, sorry guys, still at it, be right with you..." before fading him out again in the enharmonic gloaming. Fucking ace.»

Amazing, isn't it? "The evergreen mantra of youth" is priceless all by itself, but to characterize the usual punkish bawl ('fuck you, fuck you, fuck you...') as "vocals pitching like a trawler on the ocean amid the clarion chords" is something else. It agrees splendidly with the fact that no third opinion exists on Madonna: one is either seduced by its kickass power, or is left as cold by it as the Kali image on the front cover (I take it that Kali is supposed to be this band's Madonna, by the way). Maybe it is my own serious problem that I remain impenetrable to the first opinion. But seeing as how I have also seen it expressed in the following way — "this is the best hard rock since Led Zeppelin!" — I may have a right to wonder whether at least part of the admiration for the Austin guys cannot be attributed to serious gaps in musical knowledge on the part of some of the admirers. Best hard rock since Led Zeppelin? You must be kidding, sir. Ever heard of Napalm Death?..

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