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Tag: concept album

Album Review: Local H – Hallelujah! I’m a Bum! [Slimstyle]

Scott Lucas is something of a film buff. In 2004, he titled Local H’s fifth studio album Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?, which referenced the actress known for her roles in films like Carrie, Halloween, Rock and Roll High School and Stripes. His 2010 record with his “solo” project Scott Lucas and the Married Men was called George Lassos the Moon, a call back to It’s a Wonderful Life. Local H has been playing shows in Chicago on New Year’s Eve for over a decade now, and they always have themes to them with movie connotations. 2001 was their tribute to Stanley Kubrick, for example. Here are the intro videos the band showed before their themed NYE sets in 2010 and 2011, the former which pulls from 1930s musicals and the latter which is a mixture of a Rush concert film and Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. So yes, it should come as little surprise that Local H named their new long player Hallelujah! I’m a Bum!, inspired by the 1933 Al Jolson musical of the same name. The plot of that film essentially glamorizes and satirizes the hobo lifestyle during the Great Depression. Considering the current state of our economy and that we’ve got a big election coming up, these are the topics that Lucas and drummer Brian St. Clair have chosen to focus on for this record. Like almost every Local H album, the unifying theme makes it a concept record, complete with seamless song transitions and reprises of melodies and lyrics at various points throughout. Listening to the whole 60+ minute, 17 track affair from start to finish in one sitting is pretty important to grasp all that’s being done, however there are a handful of songs worth focusing on if you don’t have the time or fortitude to take on the whole enchilada each and every time.

The first half of Hallelujah! I’m a Bum! is largely focused on how we’ve been trained and indoctrinated to believe lies perpetuated by authority figures, designed to keep us calm, complacent and to hold us back from achieving our full potential. “Cold Manor” is about how our education system lets us down in that regard, feeding us with the wrong information when we’re kids so we don’t ever know better. “They Saved Reagan’s Brain” is an indictment of the GOP and Wall Street greed, attacking the idea of trickle down economics and using the aforementioned President’s own words against him in sound clips from his 1983 Evil Empire speech. The focus shifts to Chicago for “Blue Line” and “Another February,” both songs about trying to survive the city’s harsh winters when you don’t have a warm bed to sleep in or a car that will start. The former track actually uses both El train sounds and a clip of a homeless person riding the rails, explaining he does it to avoid freezing to death at night. There is a clear divide in this album via “Cold and Mannered,” which reprises “Cold Manor” in a slower, more resigned lo-fi fashion. The band originally said they were going to make this a double album, and while press releases along with the extensive track listing certainly promote that idea, if you buy it on CD you’re still getting one disc or if you buy the mp3s in bulk it won’t cost you more than any other single album. Call it Local H taking the politics of this to the next level by keeping costs down in a tough economy.

When the second half of Hallelujah! I’m a Bum! kicks off with the 75 second guitar-and-horns stomp of “Trash Fire Bummers,” things feel a little different. Okay, so the introduction of horns is something new for the band and make for a nice touch, but there’s also a shift in perspective that permeates the rest of the album. Now that we’ve learned how the government, politicians and the economy have led us astray in our formative years, it’s time to examine the further damage we’re unknowingly causing ourselves and others in the present because nobody told us otherwise. “Get it out of neutral/ Make yourself useful,” Lucas demands amid frenzied guitars and staccato horns on “Here Come Ol’ Laptop.” He’s trying to slap people out of their fevered delusions and back to reality. “Ruling Kind” gives a rather fair and calm assessment of how we need to get rid of politicians that don’t have our best interests at heart. But then the Republican party gets hit with more barbs on “Limit Your Change” and “Paddy Considine.” The first predominantly features sound bites from people like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin with their famous quotes like, “I like being able to fire people” and “How’s that hopey-changey stuff workin’ out for ya?” All of it is intended to expose their supposed hypocrisy, that in a quest to destroy President Obama they’re actually harming our country too. Following that is an indictment of the conspiracy theorist middle-aged white man, both believing and spreading misinformation about how the President is a “secret Muslim” or that only people of color are allowed to have a say in government.

If these sorts of topics sound a bit depressing and unpleasant to deal with, remember that the last Local H record 12 Angry Months was a very personal look at the crippling issues dealt with in the year following the end of a long-term relationship. Lucas and St. Clair also aren’t Japandroids, the similarly loud duo working hard to make rock and roll a celebration. The slog through this dark take on American living in 2012 is intended to get people angry about our failings and equally inspired to fight for actual change in our system. In other words, this is Local H’s pseudo take on Rage Against the Machine, and perhaps surprisingly, they wear that hat well. After looking inwards for so many records, it’s refreshing to hear them make music that truly speaks to millions of disenfranchised Americans. They become the voice of the middle class, deeply unsatisfied with both political parties (it’s worth noting there are a few criticisms aimed at President Obama on this album too) and frightened at the idea that we’ve been lost as a nation for so long we might never find our way back. Hallelujah! I’m a Bum! is an essential record to listen to as we prepare to vote this November, but its intentions and aspirations expand beyond that expiration date. Whether we hit another recession or not, America will likely remain in turmoil for many years to come. It’ll be good to have this around to remind us why and help vent some of that anger. Or you could completely ignore the lyrics and bang your head to some heavy garage rock for an hour. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Click here to watch the video for “Cold Manor”
Click here to watch a video of “Night Flight to Paris” being performed live in the studio

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Album Review: M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming [Mute]

90% of double albums are failures. In more recent years, everyone from Foo Fighters to the Red Hot Chili Peppers have attempted to show off creatively by unleashing multi-disc efforts. Some claim the music is all thematically sound, tied to a concept or something else, and therefore entirely necessary to extend beyond your traditional single album length. Others say they went into the studio and got far more recorded than anticipated, and because everything was so great, instead of cutting tracks they just left it as-is, bleeding it out into dual records. You’ve also got a band like Radiohead, who made “Kid A” and released that, then followed up 8 months later on with “Amnesiac”, essentially more new songs from those same sessions but contextually different. A staggered release schedule forming two separate albums tends to be the smarter move, particularly in this day and age when albums are largely down for the count and singles reign, the attention span of music fans growing increasingly shorter by the day. Still, there is the occasional double album that works, generating enough positive response to go down with the status of “legendary”. We’re talking Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”. It was reportedly that Pumpkins record which served as the main inspiration for M83’s main man Anthony Gonzalez to craft his own double album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”. This may be one of the worst times in music trends to unleash 73 minutes of music intended to be heard in one sitting, but let’s just be thankful somebody has the balls to keep trying anyways.

The first thing you look for in any double album is filler. Instrumental tracks? That’s typically the first sign of filler, but if you know M83 then you also know they do a fair share of instrumentals on their single disc records. Their electro-synth sound is built to where instrumentals can be not only welcome, but sometimes encouraged. One listen to “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” will teach you all you need to know about M83 and instrumentals. There’s somewhere around a half dozen instrumentals spread across the 22 total tracks here, and almost all of them are wholly engaging or serve a particular purpose other than apparent filler. This isn’t a record with an overarching theme or concept holding it all together, outside of just a generalized dream state it otherwise seeks to achieve. Yet there are so many big pop songs and dramatic ballads that transitional pieces and more minor moments are almost required as balance. “Train to Pluton” or “Fountains” may not be the most exciting or brilliant pieces of music, but they are fully functional set-up pieces and never really hurt the overall pacing that gets established. You can also look at moments like “Where the Boats Go” and “When Will You Come Home?”, the former which aids the adjustment from the red hot “Reunion” into the massive drift that is “Wait” and the latter which serves as the start of a trio of songs that effortlessly blends the first disc with the second.

Long time fans of M83 should automatically feel comfortable with “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”, as the 80s synth-pop motifs continue to permeate everything Gonzalez touches. That’s his thing, crafting a soundtrack to an imagined version of his teenage years. The last record “Saturdays=Youth” felt like musical accompaniment to a long-lost John Hughes film, and while there’s still some resemblance to that on the new double album, it comes across as far less cinematic in nature. That doesn’t mean it’s any less expansive or epic though, as it’s tough to call 74 minutes of music minimal or small. But those bigger, arena-style melodies were explored in a similar fashion on “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts”. To bring out the full M83 past album retrospective, fans of “Before the Dawn Heals Us” will find the darker, more urban pop of that record bearing an influence here as well. Darkness would be a theme on this record, as any record with the word “dreaming” in its title hopefully implies sleeping and night time. Despite all this looking back providing a “complete picture” of what M83 has been all about, there’s still the future to be concerned with. In response to that, Gonzalez has taken to expanding the number of instruments on this record to include the occasional saxophone (“Midnight City”) or flute (“New Map”) while pushing his own vocals into entirely new territory.

Past singles like “Kim & Jessie” or “Don’t Save Us From the Flames” provide great reference samples featuring Gonzalez keeping his vocals restrained at an almost whisper-like level. It becomes apparent from the very first track on the new album, the aptly titled “Intro”, that those days of calmly reserved, passive singing are over. Gonzalez’s voice may not be the most impressive thing when he’s belting out songs at full volume as his newfound range and key reveal some limitations, but you’ve got to give him credit for laying it all out there. He sounds a full octave higher than he used to, now fully up-front and brimming with confidence, taking the reins like he’s ready to conquer the world. For once his singing matches the scope of his arrangements, which is probably why cuts like “Midnight City” and “Steve McQueen” also make for some of M83’s best songs to date in a catalogue dense with highlights already.

If you’re not prepared for it, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” might seem like a chore to listen to from start to finish. There’s so much material to digest that it can be a little overwhelming at times, making it that much harder to become enraptured with important moments because there are quite a few. To Gonzalez’s credit he spreads them out fairly evenly to continually engage the listener for the duration, though the first five tracks of each disc can feel like a pileup of pure sonic delight. There may not be a storyline or abstract concept linking these tracks together, but like the two halves of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, each separate disc has a sonic counterpart on the other. Consider them then like fraternal twins – different, but inextricably linked to one another. The more carefully you listen, the more obvious it becomes. It would seem then that going the double album route has worked out remarkably well for M83. Count this was one of those rare cases where a multi-disc effort is worth the time and money you invest in it. There are not really any bad songs in this bunch either, and even the child’s spoken word moments of “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” can’t derail the momentum this beast generates for itself. Will it go down in history as one of those rare double albums that still gets talked about 5, 10 or 50 years down the line? Probably not, if only due to technology. Up until the early 00s, album releases were regarded as events, and people’s options were confined to physical mediums such as vinyl, cassette tapes and CDs. You couldn’t really skip any tracks on The Beatles’ “White Album” because at the time that luxury didn’t exist. With the advent of the digital era, not only are people skipping or cherry picking, but access to music itself has become so fluid there’s far more music to take in than any one person can even begin to digest. Hence the rise of the single, so we can listen to that song and get on to the next artist. But here’s a piece of work that while created today is distinctly 80s in sound and scope. If you’re a child of the 80s or earlier decades, that’s something you can understand, even as you may have a hard drive filled to the brim with other music. Calm yourself down and set aside 74 minutes to take in “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” at least once in full. Hopefully it will speak to you and maybe even reinstill a faith in the long player. The death of the album (single or double) has been greatly exaggerated, and M83 makes for some great evidence in support of that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and find the exact time when this album and the film “The NeverEnding Story” sync up perfectly.

M83 – Intro (ft Zola Jesus)

M83 – Midnight City

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Album Review: Fucked Up – David Comes to Life [Matador]

If you’re going to call your band Fucked Up, you’d best earn the name. If you’ve ever seen Fucked Up’s live show, in which the not-tiny frontman Damien Abraham aka Pink Eyes typically strips down, jumps into the crowd and destroys things on stage, then that might be reason enough to justify the name. What’s perhaps the scariest and most threatening thing about the band though is how legitimately brilliant they are. Behind the captivating live show, Fucked Up don’t write energetic punk rock songs that thrive solely on instrumental mastery and wild vocals. They’re one of those rare bands that actually tries to make music with an intricately designed purpose. Their first album “Hidden World” was technically concept-free, but there were commonalities and themes present across it if you paid close enough attention. 2008’s “The Chemistry of Common Life” was thematically strident in its presentation of songs about the mysteries of birth and death as well as the origins of life and re-birth. As if that wasn’t already somewhat impressive, the band has also been steadily releasing 12″ singles as part of their “Zodiac” series, which started in 2006 and has continued at a rate of about 1 per year. Naturally, everything in the Zodiac series deals with whatever animal is up on the Zodiac chart for that particular year the song will be released. Where things really start to get heavy though is this past year, in which Fucked Up have been intensely working on their very own punk rock opera. A story was written, surrounding the character known as David, a man that has been the subject of a couple Fucked Up songs in the past. Leading up to the actual album though, this year’s Record Store Day saw the release of “David’s Town”, a “compilation” record that features a collection of fictional bands from David’s fictional hometown of Byrdesdale Spa, UK. The style of music was decidedly Britpop, though the boys in Fucked Up put it all together and had a series of guests come in to handle vocals which included Danko Jones, Ben Cook, Cloud Nothings and A.C. Newman. The lengths this band has gone to in an effort to make immensely smart and effective punk rock while also providing completely extraneous elements that appear to be more about fun than function, now THAT is fucked up. Give a close listen to the finally finished, 78-minute full concept that is “David Comes to Life”, and you’ll agree with that sentiment completely.

The story behind “David Comes to Life” isn’t 100% clear, but that seems to be the way that Fucked Up intended it. Spread out across four parts and 18 total tracks, we meet David Eliade, a worker at a light bulb factory in the UK who appears to be unhappy with his life. One day he meets Veronica, an outspoken rebel and Communist, and falls in love with her. Via her committment to her cause though, she winds up getting killed in a terrorist bombing, which crushes David emotionally. While he wallows in misery, he learns details surrounding Veronica’s death might not be as clear-cut as they first appeared. It all leads to the thrilling conclusion in which David finally learns the truth and becomes emotionally unburdened. That’s the broad view of the story, neglecting the many fine details that are layered across the entire record but are not always easily understood. There’s a whole thing about the narrator of the story telling one version of what happened vs. David’s version of what happened vs. David’s ex-girlfriend Vivian’s version of what happened, so if it makes total sense to you consider yourself lucky. Pink Eyes’ rough and tumble vocal style doesn’t help with translation much either, and you’re best off following along with a lyrics sheet rather than trying to hear every word that’s being sung. What also is a story without dialogue from other characters, which is why Cults’ Madeline Follin and singer/songwriter Jennifer Castle both lend their vocal talents to characters like Veronica and Vivian. That variation in perspective and singers is actually of great benefit on a record like this, helping to provide something a little smoother and more emotionally strident next to Pink Eyes’ attack dog method. Despite his “one note” style, Pink Eyes sounds better and more vital on this record than he ever has before, which at the very least says something about personal growth and an ability to adjust should the need arise.

The real challenges a record like “David Comes to Life” provide are more those of patience and virtue than anything else. Though divided into parts, the record as a whole is intended to be digested in a singular sitting. Translation: to properly listen to this album is to carve over an hour out of your day to focus on it. With all of its energy and intense moments, it’s a really thrilling 78 minutes and one that deserves to be heard straight through as often as you can. But should you need to break the record down to the bare essentials, those moments that will get you off the quickest because there’s only so much time, there are a few notable highlights to keep an ear out for. “Queen of Hearts” surges to life like a sharper, racing punk rock take on a Bruce Springsteen song. Titus Andronicus had something similar going with last year’s “The Monitor”, but that record doesn’t have quite the wall of guitars and visceral vocals this does. The hook is dynamic and effortlessly catchy, and Follin shines in her singular verse matched against your typical Pink Eyes throaty yell. A mere couple tracks later, “Turn the Season” is dark and powerful in the best sort of way, an emotional sea change that provides a strong pathway into the next chapter of the storyline. “Ship of Fools” is a fist-pumping anthem that featured a sharp mid-track guitar solo that helps motivate it to another level. The head-bobbing rhythm of “The Recursive Girl” makes it one of the more genuinely fun moments on the record, and the guitars are also scaled back just a tiny bit to give the melody just a little more room to breathe. By the time the final cut “Lights Go Up” crawls out with a backing vocal assist from Kurt Vile, there’s a brightness and celebratory air happening. Pink Eyes’ scream has turned from one of desperation, frustration and pain into something vital and life affirming. It’s not only a triumph for the main character of David, but also the band, having just conquered a mountain of a record. Hell, if you listen to the whole thing from start to finish you’ll feel that same sense of relief as the guitars slowly fade away into a single tone that beeps almost like a hospital heart monitor, slowly and steadily until it finally stops cold when the album does.

When you make a heavy concept record like “David Comes to Life”, you run a huge risk of having everything turn out disastrous. The Decemberists seemed to learn their lesson after putting out “The Hazards of Love” to mixed reviews, though many of the complaints were more about their constantly increasing rate of pretension rather than the legitimate quality of the music. One could argue that punk rock is a much more ideal format for the rock opera, given its expedient and noisy nature, we’re less inclined to care about hearing something truly innovative making it that much more of a surprise when we do. Green Day worked that angle to massive success with their album “American Idiot”, even if they faltered significantly with its equally conceived follow-up “21st Century Breakdown”. For Fucked Up, “David Comes to Life” represents the culmination of years of hard work and development, and thankfully it appears to be entirely worth it. The sheer steps from conception through execution have been nothing short of smart, and the songs are both effortlessly catchy and raw while simultaneously having to deal with the heavy story content required. “Tommy”. “Zen Arcade”. “Double Nickels on the Dime”. These are some of the big and legendary records “David Comes ot Life” has to match up with, and in effect, it has. Punk rock album of the year contenders, meet your frontrunner.

Fucked Up – Queen of Hearts
Fucked Up – Ship of Fools
Fucked Up – A Little Death
Fucked Up – The Other Shoe

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Album Review: …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead [Richter Scale/Superball]

It really doesn’t seem like it, but …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have been around for 16 years. In that time there’s been 7 albums and a few EPs, and the progression of the band is pretty well charted by all those releases. They began as punk rock upstarts with a flair for the dramatic and hints of prog-rock influences. By the time their third album “Source Tags and Codes” came around in 2002, the band had developed their sound to the point where many of the tracks blended into one another or were connected by brief orchestral interludes, truly taking on a life of their own. That was one hell of an epic record, and one of the chosen few to receive a coveted 10.0 rating on Pitchfork and deservedly so. It was that sort of brilliance combined with the band’s intense live shows that often ended with everything on stage getting completely obliterated (instruments included) that really earned the band their name and reputation. Everything they’ve done since then has fallen somewhere between searching for a new way to advance the band’s sound to trying to reclaim the magic of that singular perfect record. The kind of pressure such lofty expectations must have put on the band had to be monumental, and Trail of Dead essentially retreated from the spotlight. Intra-band fights ensued, as did critical slammings and tension with their label. In 2007 they left Interscope Records after citing “lack of support” and instead decided to release new music under their own label, Richter Scale. It’s been just about 2 years since their last album, “The Century of Self”, which saw them slowly crawling their way back towards the top with their new found freedom. They were more creatively electrified than they had been in years, and it was quite evident upon listening to that still epic of markedly adventuresome record. Now in a much healthier place, Trail of Dead return with “Tao of the Dead”, their wildest and most ambitious project to date.

At a time in which the single is more popular than ever and the existence of the full length album is consistently being threatened, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have crafted a record that practically demands to be heard from start to finish. “Tao of the Dead” is actually divided into two separate parts. Part I spans 11 tracks and 36 minutes and was recorded entirely in the key of D. Part II is titled “Strange News From Another Planet” and is five separate movements contained within a single 16.5 minute track, recorded entirely in the key of F. Yeah, it’s some high concept shit, though at least they’re not aiming to tell some long-winded story via the lyrics. No, the intention is just to compose two long-form pieces of music that perfectly blend together compositionally. Conrad Keeley cited records like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and Rush’s “Hemispheres” as direct influences when coming up with “Tao of the Dead”. Doubtless that he’s hoping this new album will be as warmly received and as legendary as those. On that note, there’s some good news and some bad news.

The bad news first, there’s no way “Tao of the Dead” will go down as a landmark album. While that primarily has to do with the challenges the album format presents in this day and age, even if this were the 60s, 70s or 80s where such attempts would be more admirable, one gets the feeling that this record wouldn’t quite succeed at the desired level. What’s really a shame is that it actually comes somewhat close to achieving such a lofty goal. The gigantic, epic-as-fuck landscape is already laid out for them on a platter as it’s a sound they’ve been trying out the last several years with mixed results, with the problems mostly coming from the band trying to take themselves far too seriously. Trail of Dead have always sounded best in a very loose and playful atmosphere, buttressed by the occasional Jason Reece-led punk rock quickie. Reece does pop up on vocals a time or two, though his “Days of Being Wild” tendencies are shaved down in service of the overall concept, which in and of itself is just a touch rigid and demanding. The band attempts to counteract such difficulties via the album’s lyrics and artwork, which have a very fantastical and science fiction-y quality to them. The album cover looks like a damn “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” poster, and if you buy a deluxe version there’s a graphic novel that comes with it. All of it is written and designed by proverbial band leader Conrad Keeley, who depending on the record can be as much of an asset to the group as he is a hindrance. His issues are primarily vocal, in that the band’s occasional over-reliance on his often sub-par singing has sometimes made an album worse than it should be. That’s less of an issue on “Tao of the Dead” thanks to an increased sense of atmosphere and more instrumental brute force than normal.

The good news about this record is that it does a whole lot more right than it does wrong. The band is smart to stick with pretty much the same sound they’ve been dishing out for years now, but repurposed just a touch. There’s less in the way of outright balladry and more intense/loud moments flanked by some of the band’s sharpest drum work in recent memory. And while the concept seems to take precedence over anything else this time around, the first part of the album also has its fair share of workable singles as well. “Pure Radio Cosplay” is fun and exciting and memorable to the point where it earns the 3 minute “Reprise” version several tracks later. First single “Summer of All Dead Souls” is solid, but interestingly enough not the most obvious or easiest choice in terms of marketing the record. Atmosphere plays a huge role in “Cover the Days Like A Tidal Wave”, where the melody builds and builds until it overwhelms and buries you in pure noise. “The Wasteland” is an exercise in restraint, bringing in some lighter acoustic guitars amidst the jabs of louder electric guitar moments, which is taken over by the brief “The Spiral Jetty”, complete with somber piano, electro ambiance and a defunct guitar solo. Though a song like “Weight of the Sun (Or, the Post-Modern Prometheus)” seems deserving of single status (it’s certain to be a crowd-pleaser at live shows), there’s something just a touch off-putting about the loudly shouted chorus of “You! Will! Pay!” in general because of how simplistic it is. Jason Reece finally reports for vocal duty on “Ebb Away”, a song that’s so triumphant that it feels like it should close out the entire movement. Instead, “The Fairlight Pendant” takes care of that, a nearly 6 minute instrumental that goes huge before going home. The keyboards go nuts, the pace accelerates to breakneck speed, and there’s some serious psychedelic/krautrock debts that are paid in full. Rather than actually feeling like a proper closer to Part I of the record, it instead does some solid work bridging the two divided halves of the album.

The 16 minute opus “Strange News From Another Planet” is the left turn where “Tao of the Dead” sails over the edge of sanity. At over 16 minutes, it’s the longest single track Trail of Dead have ever done, even if it is technically five separate songs smashed into one. Of course thanks to creative blending and the idea that the entire piece be heard as a single symphonic movement, it’s a small challenge to identify exactly where each of those five songs ends and the new ones begin. Much of it is instrumental, which actually works to the band’s benefit as they space out while going for broke. There are several time signature changes, a section of spoken word/found sound audio clips (a reference back to their early days), intense shredding guitar solos, and a brief Jason Reece vocal appearance, all amidst an ebb and flow that continually builds up, explodes and breaks down with enough force to keep things interesting for the duration. To some, it will be a grand masterpiece, a thesis statement for the entire record and a testament to the brilliance this band genuinely possesses but has failed to deliver upon since that one perfect album nine years ago. Others will view it as an agenda piece, with Trail of Dead trying so hard to create this massive epic and prove their worth that they’ll throw this incredibly long track at you with the hopes that you’ll either be impressed by the sheer ambition of it or too worn down by the end to actually come up with a valid criticism of it. Personally I fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Trail of Dead take the risk and actually do a solid job of making it work, but it does scream pompous and overblown just a bit and the extreme running time for a single track gets both taxing after awhile and a challenge to listen to unless you’re in the middle of a long car ride or have nothing better to do. At least in the first part of the album, though intended as a singular piece divided into 11 separate tracks, you can stop or pause between them should you need to.

For long-time Trail of Dead fans that have sat around moping since “Source Tags and COdes” changed their life, there’s good news for you courtesy of “Tao of the Dead”. The band you once knew and loved dearly is now closer than ever towards reclaiming the crown once placed upon their heads those many years ago. This new album really was a gambit from its creation, and the guys could just as easily have fallen on their faces as they could have emerged triumphant. Thankfully, they earn their keep for the most part by crafting a smart and well-adjusted record that’s reins in a lot of their past mistakes in favor of interesting new doorways to explore. There are a couple issues, from the intense sincerity of the material to a weak track or two, but those are more minor than most everything else. Conrad Keeley’s not-always-great vocals are used better this time as well, both by not always leaving them front-and-center in the mix or just breaking out more instrumental passages than ever before. There are still moments when he’s reaching beyond his capacity however, and that strain doesn’t help things. Still, the supporting cast in the band, now slimmed down to a mere four-piece, excels at nearly every turn and seems to prove the old adage that too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth (the argument here being that the extra members were weighing them down). “Tao of the Dead” may not go down in music history as one of the finest single-piece concept records, nor will it even be considered Trail of Dead’s most important work, but what it does do is provide legitimate hope. Hope for a band that lost the plot years ago and many were beginning to believe wouldn’t ever find it again. Everybody loves a good comeback story, and thanks to this album, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead are now poised to do just that. Now if only they’d lighten up a little bit and start smashing things on stage again.

Trail of Dead – Summer Of All Dead Souls

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Weight of the Sun (Or, the Post-Modern Prometheus)

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