A brave new world

Jon Dieringer

Trail of Dead leads music in more melodic direction

… And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s latest disc restores hope in major label rock n’ roll.

Credit: Beth Rankin

In a world where John Lennon has been murdered while Ashlee Simpson and Linkin Park vie for the hearts and imaginations of America’s youth, intelligent people have only two options: They can submit and shut up, or they can pick up an electric guitar and start a rock ‘n’ roll band.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead is three young men from Texas who have chosen the latter path, and on their fourth full-length album, Worlds Apart, they have emerged as the foremost philosophizers of popular culture. The album is a thrilling and cohesive statement about the loss of substance in modern music and, by extension, modern life — and it stands out among the band’s best work.

Once highly influenced by 80s underground music, Trail of Dead’s sound has expanded to give listeners an idea of what pure “rock” music might sound like today if it hadn’t been subdivided into other genres such as punk, metal and power pop.

Some might say the band’s cleaner, more accessible sound betrays its roots (especially those who like to define art with economic terms like “indie rock”), but it’s difficult to deny the satisfaction of hearing a major label band make music full of ambition and ideas.

Conrad Keely and Co. have exhumed the corpse of rock ‘n’ roll, manipulating it like a marionette, showing that it can still pull off some pretty impressive tricks. The album’s title track is radio-ready rock par excellence, sounding something like a Sonic Youth take on R.E.M.-esque jangle pop. “All White” is another standout with lipstick traces of Ziggy-era Bowie haunting the wailing, sci-fi soul backup singers and thundering toms. At a length just shy of two minutes, it’s a song that feels more epic than it actually is.

Perhaps that’s why some critics have knocked the album for its songs being overly long and self-indulgent stabs at progressive rock—nominal skill with a calculator reveals the average song length is actually less than four minutes. Trail of Dead’s strength is creating epic arrangements usually reserved for 12-minute rock opera suites and making them work in three-minute pop songs, especially since they realize sometimes a little tongue-in-cheek goes a long way.

While this makes Worlds Apart a bit intimidating at first, every listen makes the album better and better, eventually revealing more than a few potential singles. “Let It Drive” might even make a nice prom theme song since it gives an idea of what Eve 6’s “Here’s To the Night” might sound like in a cultural climate where mediocrity isn’t accepted as entertainment.

Despite the times Trail of Dead’s ambition threatens to over extend its reach, Worlds Apart is a great example of how a small, experimental band can adapt to major label territory. The album’s anti-authoritarian, anti-consumer themes might not be enough to bring down the man, but they’ll do a fine job of rocking down the house. These conquistadors can consider their mission a divine success.

Contact pop arts reporter Jon Dieringer at [email protected].