Going through all the 2000-2009 albums in my collection for the purpose of culling together this list has unearthed a few old favorites that I had all but forgotten about; records that I listened to intensely, desperately, like they contained some encoded secret that could only be deciphered by memorizing every lyric and chord change. I considered these albums integral parts of my life, and felt like they defined me as a person. And then, somehow, they fell out of my rotation– either as result of the desultory zigzagging musical tastes of my capricious youth, or simple burn-out from too many listens.
What to do about those records? Would it be dishonest to include them in this list, as I don’t really listen to them anymore? Or would it be dishonest to not include them– since, after all, this blog is all about the aggregate experience of an entire lifetime of music, not necessarily what I listen to now? I decided to give them another listen and think about what it is that drew me to them in the first place, and whether they hold up or not. One of these forgotten classics gathering dust in my collection was …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead’s “Source Tags & Codes” (shortened in the subject line to avoid it being seven lines long).
Holy wow, does this album hold up.
This album has been with me for a long time. I bought it back in the early aughts, at the end of my punk phase and during my slow transition into indie rock melomania. I bought it at the behest of a good friend of mine– the same kid who had recommended Queens of the Stone Age, which had absolutely blown my mind back in high school (heh). I couldn’t believe that this type of music even existed, that something could be so rocking and creepy and aggressive and mood-driven. I loved how outright disturbing their album “Rated R” was, and I listened to it nonstop. As far as I was concerned, my friend had made a valuable contribution to my life, and I needed to listen to everything he threw my way. Years later, my interest in QOTSA has evolved into outright distaste, their records sounding silly to my ears. Yet “Source Tags & Codes” is still fresh and powerful, a musical punch in the stomach that still leaves me writhing on the floor in agony, trying to catch my breath.
In a lot of ways, it’s very appropriate that this album came into my life during my progression from power-chord hook-enthusiast to the wilder sounds of indie rock– Trail of the Dead has all the energy and aggression of a punk band, coupled with the arpeggiated grandiosity of post-rock; angry guitars, basslines that live all the way down the neck, vocals buried in the mix, trying to wrestle their way atop of the crashing cymbals.
This is a violent record, Trail of the Dead being a violent band. “Source Tags & Codes” being their major-label debut, the increased production budget could have resulted in a shimmery clean commercial rock sound, but the songs are suitably loud. The sounds bleed into each other, a chemical mixture resulting in a fierce, fiery sound in every track. The album opener “It Was There That I Saw You” explodes, reels back and revs up with deafening intensity. “How Near How Far” (the track posted below) goes from a mid-tempo sludge to a driving, machine-gun attack, before sliding into an almost post-rock instrumental section, then starting the process over. Its most violent outburst, the song “Homage”, is almost an 80s hardcore punk song, were it not for the fact that they actually use chords.
As pressing and outward as it is, the album is not all surface-level. There’s a lot going on below the more aggressive elements, with strings weaved in subtly, coloring the solo sections beautifully but never overpowering the mix. This is an album that needs to be experienced LOUD, to really feel every stuttering drum fill, every peak and every valley in the urgent sonic pandemonium that Conrad Keely and company build across this exhilarating album. I was thrilled to find that I still love every second of it, and I’m happy that it’s back in my life.
Listen to the track “How Near How Far” (picked pretty much at random, as the entire album is amazing) by clicking the player below: