AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD: IX (2014)
1) The Doomsday Book; 2) Jaded Apostles; 3) A Million Random Digits; 4) Lie Without A Liar; 5) The Ghost Within; 6) The Dragonfly Queen; 7) How To Avoid Huge Ships; 8) Lost In The Grand Scheme; 9) Bus Lines; 10) Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears; 11) Sound Of The Silk.
I think it is rather safe to assume that by the end of 2014, very few people give any particularly radiant kind of damn about ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. Times have changed, competition has become brutal, and the trail has become so overgrown that even the stench of rotting flesh has a hard time pushing its way through the legions of new and upcoming indie artists. IX, the band's newest and, apparently, ninth — for those who still remember their Roman numerals — studio album has not, in two months' time, managed to earn itself a separate page on Wikipedia, much less become the focus of attention anywhere where it could matter, or register on any kinds of charts at least in the form of a minor blip. Looks like it is pretty much the end of the trail for these guys, unless they start backing Nicki Minaj or something.
Unfortunately, I wish I could say how unjust this is in the light of such great music that they continue to make — but once again, IX is a relative disappointment. The few people that did comment on the record usually pointed out its similarity to Tao Of The Dead, and I agree, but the problem is, I hated Tao Of The Dead, and looked at Lost Songs as a comeback of sort, in which the protagonists agreed to concentrate less on the noise and the muck, and more on actually making some melodic sense. On IX, the muck is back, and the melodic sense once again recedes in the background — not killed off completely, but made to suffer.
As in the worst of times, it takes but one track now to get the general gist of the album: ʽThe Doomsday Bookʼ has huge, brawny, half-tribal, half-Keith-Moon drumming; thick, noisy, funky guitars offering several models of walls of sound; a heavy bass foundation where the player sounds as if he's just holding one really huge note throughout the whole song; and vocals that rise over the din in mock-Bono fashion, trying to tell you something important that you still cannot make out, because of the nasal arrogance of the singer. Maybe I am using a couple of fresh words here, but the bottomline is, this is pretty much how the average generic Trail Of Dead song has always sounded, give or take a few. So if you like the style, here is a set of eleven extra mood pieces for you that reproduce the formula exactly.
An even more telling example is the mid-album instrumental ʽHow To Avoid Huge Shipsʼ, essentially just one lengthy crescendo that rides on one single, simple chord sequence for five minutes — a textbook exercise in «maxi-minimalism» where you take one basic idea and dress it up in so many clothes that the very process may eventually begin to enthrall. Guitars, keyboards, drums, cellos, violins, piled up in gazillions of layers, but reflecting a minimal amount of compositional work. They are such impeccable masters of the wall of sound, of course, that it is still tempting to give in, but the thing is, right from the start it is all utterly predictable. Only if you are fully new to the band will IX be able to amaze you in any novel manner.
They do have one other instrumental piece (ʽLike Summer Tempest Came His Tearsʼ) that is far more enjoyable — a dirge-like symphonic composition, with prominent piano and string parts backed by the usual wall of sound, and genuinely emotional, mainly because the huge musical backing is not made to swallow and dissolve the parts of the individual instruments, making this the analogy of a «rock-orchestrated sonata for violin and piano», alternating between mourning and militaristic segments. Thank God they included at least one such track, reminding me that they can be serious composers. Perhaps they should re-orient themselves as a neo-classical outfit and ditch them heavy guitars altogether.
All in all, this is still a little better than Tao Of The Dead — bits of attractive melodies jump out on a few of the tracks here and there, and, importantly, it is a little bit less ambitious, meaning that the music can work as a background soundtrack without irritating the senses. For these vague reasons, I dare not assault it with an indignant thumbs down, but not in a thousand years will this stuff get a thumbs up from me, either. Evolve, dammit, or die already; how many more of these formulaic transcendental-apocalyptic soundscapes do you still have in store for us?..