In the last half year or so I've finally got into ...Trail of Dead in a big way, so I thought I'd bash through a quick reviews round-up in case you were wondering where to start.
Madonna: 'Richter Scale Madness' and 'A Perfect Teenhood' epitomise ...Trail of Dead's early material – Sonic Youth with two drumkits and aggressively lo-fi recording that feels as if it's ready to rip at the seams.
Source Tags & Codes: The 'go-to' record for ...Trail of Dead die hards, it's the point at which they began to develop from a slightly unhinged punk act into something more complex and refined. Saying that, 'It Was There That I Saw You' is just as intense as anything written in their early career and riffs on a lot of the stylistic elements that defined their sound – speed, drone notes, extra percussion – while also bringing in more intricate arrangements and superior attention to detail in the use of texture. All this considered, it would be insupportable to claim Source Tags as the best ...Trail of Dead album as many do; equally simplistic is to malign its successors.
Worlds Apart: The logical conclusion of their increasingly orchestral major-label experimentation, this record is often derided as the one where the band 'lost it'; rather, it's better seen as what it is – a major label rock record that has its radio tracks ('The Rest Will Follow', 'Worlds Apart', 'Caterwaul') while also putting front-and-centre difficult percussion-led jam sessions like the brilliant 'Will You Smile Again For Me', Pink Floyd-lite 'All White' and thrashy stop-start rocker 'The Best'. For all this, it's incredibly coherent and consistently brilliant. Take it from me: this is no guilty pleasure, but a legitimately fantastic album, and probably their best.
So Divided: There's a little bit of truth to the idea that the band lost their way on this record; still, for fans of Worlds Apart there's still a consistent, enjoyable album to be found once you scratch at the surface; even so, don't expect any of the same dizzy heights of Worlds Apart.
Century of Self: A true return to form, openers 'Far Pavilions' and 'Isis Unveiled' are two of the best ...Trail of Dead songs, full-stop. 'Bells of Creation' and 'Inland Sea' are at atmospheric foil to the slash-and-burn introduction, while 'Fields of Coal' has a euphoric indie-rock feel similar to 'Worlds Apart'; the vocals and lyrics are spot on and it's consquently one of the more enduring tracks from the record. 'Ascending' briefly recalls early ...Trail of Dead and gives a hint of what was to follow on Tao of the Dead with up-tempo major chords shot through with gang vocals and dual drumkit counter-rhythms. Though much of the later album is taken up with 'Insatiable' parts one and two, there's also anthemic ballad 'Pictures of an Only Child' to enjoy; it's an oddity enough in terms of their general modus operandi to mark it out, but there's something perfect in the line “I'm standing with Eric and Mom beside a Taj Mahal/convinced that I am gonna be a writer and a movie star” that keeps me returning to it. ...Trail of Dead have more confessional and personal tracks, but somehow the effect of the whole is rather greater than its parts in this case.
Tao of the Dead: In my humble opinion, this remarkable two-song concept album is the best ...Trail of Dead album, hands down. It's rocky in an unpretentious, straight-up way, but also brings in a lot of the experimental elements from their previous albums. There may only be a single drum kit on this record, but the rhythm section remains just as prominent, and if anything boasts a little more clarity than before. As an introduction, try 'Pure Radio Cosplay', 'Summer of All Dead Souls', or 'Weight of the Sun' and then lose yourself in this wonderfully fluid set of songs.