Indie rock band and prog revisionists And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are back with another entry into their prolific and long-winded discography. 'IX' is their first record in two years, which doesn't seem like a lot, but totally is for this band. If you're looking to have that ecstatic and bombastic sound mixed into your indie rock soup, then fret not: they're back.
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The way 'XI' starts, you'd think ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead were trying to restrain themselves and make their great American Road Trip record: for them, it's pretty peeled back, the most acoustic they can get without dropping the inevitable torrent of drums. Even Conrad Keely's growled vocals have a hint of Americana twang in them, here, like he's trying to discover the magic the Jesus and Mary Chain did on 'Dirty Water'. As usual, though, the first song on one of this band's records can never be taken for a topic sentence: the transition between "Doomsday Book" and "Jaded Apostles" is proggy and forceful, throwing the band into a narrative about the heavens, laid over angelic synths and woozy guitar effects. And so 'XI' goes; a hundred different ideas firing into the sky, only interacting for a second or two at a time.
Pretty much the only dude who's got the memo on 'XI' is drummer Jamie Miller, who continues at a ferocious pace regardless of whatever the fuck his bandmates are doing -- because the key to being in Trail of Dead is pretending that you're not in the band at all. Plenty of contemporary wannabe prog acts have thrived off this golden rule -- the Mars Volta come to mind, their untethered drummer making each of their bizarre compositions feel both grounded and overwhelming. Miller's drumming on 'XI' is steady and astounding, but always ferocious enough to give the record its forward momentum among the fractures. Keely joins him on this record as a commendable force, able to wrangle hard-won emotion out of a lyrics sheet that's verbose and righteously silly. It fits this open wound of a record: there's a bit of the melodramatic Coldplay vibe in these compositions, with piano that's played so loudly it sounds like the pianist's hands have been dropped from a great height, and guitar riffs that clear out the room so their wistful tone can be heard on its own.
Something Trail of Dead have always needed is a moment: to clear their head, to sleep on it. 'XI' has moments of quietness and clarity (that six seconds or so that they sound like a quiet acoustic band reoccurs on "The Dragonfly Queen") but it's typically overstuffed and impossible to wade through, the result of a band with grand ambitions plus zero editorial prowess. Trail of Dead think emotive force comes from fullness at the front of the house, and from turning your band into a full-time orchestra, but I call that clutter. The real force comes from the Keely's tone of voice, when it heaves, or from the strength of Miller's arms. The rest is nonsense. That's okay, though.
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