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Sunday, October 4, 2009

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: The Century Of Self


1) Giants Causeway; 2) Far Pavilions; 3) Isis Unveiled; 4) Halcyon Days; 5) Bells Of Creation; 6) Fields Of Coal; 7) Inland Sea; 8) Luna Park; 9) Insatiable (one); 10) Pictures Of An Only Child; 11) Ascending; 12) An August Theme; 13) Insatiable (two).

For some reason — maybe critical indifference/hatred finally got to them — the experimentation is over, and the lads shift back to the monolithic kind of sound that characterized Source Tags & Codes. The sound is more immediate, most of the songs rock hard, and apparently there is a more "live" feel to the whole thing, as they concentrate less on overdubbing and more on ass-kicking. Does that mean that the framework of So Divided/Worlds Apart is renounced as a temporary blunder? As sort of the band's Their Satanic Majesties' Request? This I don't know, but it's not the kind of thing that I'd like to believe — even if you're convinced that there's only one thing in the world that you do real good, limiting yourself to that one thing is an unnecessary act of chick­ening out. You aren't always your own best judge, you know.

Anyway, The Century Of Self did get glowing reviews and restore the confidence of disappoin­ted fans, and, while it disappointed me a bit with its conscious refusal to explore new ground, I can't deny that it is a strong effort, showing that they at least haven't lost the inspiration or the de­dication. If you have already cracked the mystery of Source Tags, you'll probably like this as that album's well-meaning little brother — there's a bit more filler, but all the sonic textures are back and the production, despite the fact that the band has returned to a minor label, remains crisp and clear, no ugly lo-fi in sight.

The key track on the album is 'Isis Unveiled' (they really have a fascination with the goddess, don't they?), whose main theme will inarguably remain as one of their strongest "epic" moments in history, the aural equivalent of an unstoppable fantasyland cavalry charge. Again, I can't help but be reminded of how the Who used to create a Wagnerian orchestral feel with but a basic gui­tar/bass/drum set, and, although the Austin guys use two guitars and two drum sets, they're almost up to competing here, generating a wave of symph-rock majesty out of so little. Nothing else on the album comes close to reaching that emotional height, but perhaps nothing should.

Elsewhere, once the material started growing on me, all the old reactions fell into place. 'Bells Of Creation' and 'Inland Sea' move slowly, utilizing the help of stately piano chords to get heaven-on-earthly grandeur, while 'Far Pavillions' and 'Ascending' invent a couple more enjoyable pop-punk hooks. Also, they aren't entirely done with the imitations of the preceding album: 'Luna Park' is busy exorcising the collective Bono from their midst, and 'Insatiable One' bor­rows the melody from the Doors' 'Spanish Caravan', but in a modest and respectable way.

There is no huge statement I can make about any of this, nor do I wish to use the album as a pre­text for further dissecting what I perceive as their musical philosophy. There is no big news for me here. This could serve as a basis for dismissing the record — this is a "pretentious" band, after all, and a "pretentious" band that does not manage to up the stakes each and every time normally deserves a public whipping. But this would have been the past decision, back when my brain was the only part of me that allowed for positive judgement of their music; since then, I have mana­ged to accommodate certain living quarters for it in the heart as well, and this means that, liste­ning to 'Isis Unveiled', I can go "wow, how high that thing goes!" rather than "just a minute, let me check all the melodies on Source Tags & Codes that this thing borrows ideas from". There­fore, thumbs up, and I'm sure no fan of the band will be disappointed.

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