Style: Alternative Rock
Release Date: 17 Jan 2020
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George Bernard Shaw famously noted that the UK and the US are two countries separated by a common language. Well, music is a sort of language too and I never feel so separated than when trying to understand American alternative rock. It all comes down to a lack of grounding because I've heard a heck of a lot more of the British equivalent and understand where it all came from. Pre-widespread internet, we just never heard bands like Fugazi, the Pixies, the Melvins, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, the Butthole Surfers and more, as the indie scenes had evolved differently over there.
What that means is that this tenth album from the joyously named Texan band, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (it's taken from a Mayan ritual chant), is as inexplicable to me as it is enjoyable. I feel uncomfortable placing this in a meaningful context, but I know that I like it, whatever it is. Their website goes with art-rock punk 'mothertruckers' now and, frankly, that's as good a definition as any. To me, it's interesting pop music.
While I would expect this American band to be influenced mostly by American music, there's much here that's familiar. A lot of this is alternative pop, all with a darker tinge than would normally be heard in the charts and with interesting instrumentation that sets this apart. I fell wildly in love with the drums on Gone only for me to ruthlessly leave them a song later because they're even better still on Children of the Sky. Through the Sunlit Door is driven what sounds like an electronic hurdy gurdy.
A few early songs, such as All Who Wander and Something Like This, remind me of the Cure but with darker overtones that don't come from goth. The slight mumbling approach to singing comes out of grunge, but the vocal melodies are far from that. Some later songs, like Children of the Sky and Gravity, are more like Britpop with the vocals almost acquiring the requisite Manchester accent.
Often the songs shift partway, so Gravity reaches Britpop only after a while as dark dream pop. Gone starts out with whispery vocals over piano and some eerie sounds presumably conjured up from a slide guitar, but it builds with glitch electronica and wild drumming into a sort of Iggy Pop song. Blade of Wind is hook laden pop that ends up in Tangerine Dream territory as if the entire band had left the studio except for the keyboard player who decided to stay and have fun with synths for a while.
Add to all this the sort of experimentation found on Bowie's Berlin trilogy, especially Low, and there are hooks aplenty placed into territory unfamiliar to them. There are post-rock soundscapes here, mostly conjured out of drums or keyboards, but sometimes vocals too. There's anger on the post-punk Into the Godless Void. Eyes of the Overworld is all atmosphere and it's helped by humming. Who Haunts the Haunter is evocative dark poetry, like a psychedelic Nick Cave.
Let's sum that up by saying that it's a really interesting and diverse sound that darkens pop music for a rock audience. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead once toured with Dethklok and, while it's hard to imagine the fans of the latter going for post-punk or post-rock or whatever this is, it does maintain a darkness that they might dig.
I was interested in what this would sound like and it didn't disappoint me in the slightest. While so much of it is reminiscent of other artists, it's highly original put together in this form and I'm intrigued to go back and see how the band's prior nine albums work. Kudos to Conrad Keely and Jason Reece, the two core members of the band who alternate vocal duties as well as guitars and drums.
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