Wednesday, February 2, 2011

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Source Tags & Codes (2002)



[This was going to be the first review I posted in this blog a year ago, which is why it sounds different than most of the others. I abandoned it for reasons explained below, but now I present it nearly unaltered, because I'm tired and having a bad day and someone asked me to. Apologies for the delays of late.]

We inaugurate this blog with one of those albums that was so happenin' when I was in high school that I wasn't cool enough at the time to investigate. I remember seeing Trail of Dead on a cable concert series back around ten years ago and finding them pretty whacked out and interesting. I know the sordid tale of their abandonment of original label Merge in favor of Interscope, an action that altered Merge's business practices and blacklisted the band in North Carolina forever, and I know of the cultish acclaim and glee that greeted 'Source Tags and Codes,' but until this week I'd never heard it.

Track down some Trail of Dead fans and they will contradict this for sure, but this sounds like prog rock to me -- *heavy* prog rock at that. The first post seems like a decent moment to announce that this uncovers two of my major musical prejudices. There's such a fine line between lovely and awful; prog and metal hurtle themselves headlong over the line. Prog heads pride themselves on the "intelligence" of their music; metalheads pride themselves on its loudness. I love loud music, and intelligent music. But play me this kind of stuff and my brain shuts off. The orchestras, the guitars, the intricacies of the songs: I only hear wank.

People don't really talk about Trail of Dead these days. Seems like some of them are kind of embarrassed, but who's to say? In a sense, the band was ahead of its time on a movement I quite favor -- the reckless snowballing of college/indie/alternative pop music to incorporate all of the forms that were once its antithesis: AM adult contemporary and soft rock, over-the-top progressive and torch music, etc. It's no longer compelling to make divisive separatist arguments about rock & roll. It's all a wonderful din now, and it's become reassuringly constant and all-encompassing, even as listening habits themselves have grown astonishingly democratic and fragmented. It's a new age, and the old dichotomies are interesting only as intellectual surveys of the first few decades of our popular music. No need to condescend to metal or prog or jam bands anymore.

Unless you hate them. Which I do. But that's immaterial. Me personally? I can't get fun out of TOD's incorporation of these ridiculous forms any more than I can hear Television in Phish. One of the few conclusions I can draw about this nebulous aspect of my music fandom is that I'm rather uncomfortable with heftily expressed masculinity -- a theme running through the bulk of my most hated popular bands -- but Trail of Dead doesn't seem all that macho. Perhaps I'm too old and stubborn now to adapt to the coolness of uncoolness -- I certainly feel that way at times when new bands incorporate the dreaded Hall & Oates -- which puts the urge to tone everything back down to guitars and verses and choruses in a peculiar position. Are we rebelling again, or just backward looking? I like to think I am an extremely adaptable listener, ready for new things, and I want that to be the theme of this blog, making Source Tags and Codes kind of a terrible starting point, exposing as it does an instance of music that probably isn't as turgid and awful as it sounds to me (see also: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin). So th [At this point I stopped writing, it having apparently dawned on me that for the stated reasons, this was a terrible album with which to begin this weblog. So I put it away and wrote about Essex Green. All this time I've left Source Tags on my computer to listen to again and write up and then finally delete. After listening again, I don't have much to add really, so here you go, and off it goes into the recycle bin. No offense to the TOD fans reading this.]


  1. I would agree with "Bah" but I was wondering the other day why I like TOD so much and I still can't quite figure it out. They're heavier than anything else I listen to, and any other band of a similar style, I really don't seek out. So I can understand why anyone may not like them, no matter how much one can appreciate their musicianship.