Trail of Dead IX. Sure, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Queen II, Zeppelin III, or Chicago 17. But, 20 years into their rollercoaster run, Trail of Dead can wear that nine like a badge of honor, considering there was a time when it didn’t look like they would make it far past album number three. And though bandleader Conrad Keely has said the new album’s title is really just a reference to a planet featured in Frank Herbert’s Dune, it nonetheless speaks volumes about the band’s current state—like the very Roman numeral that comprises it, IX suggests the arrival at a crossroads. At this point, Trail of Dead have lived out every narrative in the rock’n’roll playbook: the promising debut, the real-deal follow-up, the career peak, the spectacular crash, the failure to relaunch, the reconstruction, the encouraging show of strength, and the valiant return to form. But where their discography to date has seen violent swings from discordant punk to lavish prog and back again, with IX, they opt to let the pendulum rest gently in the middle.
Trail of Dead’s current four-piece lineup—instrument-swapping co-founders Keely and Jason Reece, plus bassist Autry Fulbright II and guitarist/drummer Jamie Miller—has been in place for almost as long as their name-making 1998-2003 formation. And after two albums (2011’s Tao of the Dead and 2012’s Lost Songs) that reinstituted Trail of Dead’s primordial crash-and-burn guitar carnage, with IX, the solidified band is feeling confident enough to take another stab at the cinemascopic, candelabra-lit pop that defined Trail of Dead’s muddled mid-period output, but this time with a lesson-learned sense of restraint. So while IX sees Trail of Dead rolling out the piano and enlisting a string section once again (the album contains not one, but two interstitial chamber-rock crash-endos), in this case, the ornate touch-ups don’t come at the expense of the band’s roiling energy.
It takes the band a few tries to get the balance just right—IX opens with a trio of mid-tempo guitar-churning, drum-thundering tracks that are too controlled to fully erupt, and too heavy-handed to showcase their melodic graces. (In particular, “Jaded Apostles” sees Keely adopting a theatrically overwrought vocal to infuse the song with an intensity that its lumbering, Celtic-reeled gallop can’t muster.) But IX gradually loosens up and simmers down without diminishing its dramatic intent: the careening “Lie Without a Liar” and “The Dragonfly Queen” pledge allegiance to the “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”/”So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” school of sinister jangle-pop; “The Ghost Within” is a celestial ballad in the vein of Madonna’s “Clair de Lune” or “Sigh Your Children”, and a reminder that behind Trail of Dead’s apocalyptic attack beats the bruised heart of a mid-’90s emo act (and there’s no better time than now to reapply it on their sleeves). And in contrast to the cultural critiques that formed the conceptual framework of their most recent records, IX feels like a more personal work, focusing on intimate exchanges that better suit its more refined presentation. Most affecting is centerpiece track “Bus Lines”, wherein Trail of Dead’s fantastical, globe-spanning universe gets distilled to a simple, poignant portrait of backpack travel and homesickness, the song’s pent-up emotion unleashed in a Siamese Dream–y coda of phased-guitar fireworks.
That towering climax serves as the launch-pad into IX’s more epically scaled home stretch, with Reece’s jugular-bulging “Lost in the Grand Scheme” reverting to Trail of Dead’s familiar pattern of firing up, flaming out, and rekindling for an even bigger bang. But the closing “Sound of the Silk” proves a more slippery beast than its sunrise-summoning psych-pop initially suggests, leading us through a drum-circle breakdown and spoken-word change-up en route to a fierce finale that sees Keely and Reece locking into a call-and-response clamor. In essence, the song is Trail of Dead’s entire discography condensed into an “in case you missed it” highlight reel of paisley-patterned melody, jammed-out indulgence, and steroid-pumped punk. While the band may have struggled in the past to reconcile their post-hardcore roots with their art-rock ambitions, more often than not, IX marks the spot.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1ooC9cZ