The naming of a band is quite a trying experience. You can put all kinds of effort into it, making infinite lists of monikers to bounce off friends, and still come up empty handed. The trick is to finish the phrase, “Hi, we’re _______ from New Haven,” and have it sound cool. But at the same time, it has to reflect your style of music. Think about it. Something like “Death Horse,” could only work for a bad speed metal band.
So when I see a name like “–And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead,” I become green with envy. It’s amusing, it can be shortened to the cool Trail of Dead, and it definitely fits their unique brand of doom rock. Luckily, the music on “Source Tags & Codes” — the band’s third album — lives up to all of the name’s potential.
The reference point here is Sister-era Sonic Youth, with the quiet-to-loud-noise dynamic and verse-chaos-verse structure alive and well. “It Was There That I Saw You,” starts the album off by thundering from the speakers before calming to a slow(er), jagged guitar passage.
The energy carries through to “Homage,” an underground-savvy musical tribute to punk rock. The heavy verse riff sounds like all the old DC Hardcore bands rolled into one, but slips into a Jawbreaker-esque bridge. It’s alright, but Trail of Dead do better when sticking to swells and dueling guitars. Just listen to “How Near, How Far” to see why. Its lilting intro dissolves into a jangle of indie pop made schizophrenic by hyperactive drumming and a melody to die for. It’s the best song on the album, and one of the best songs I’ve heard in a couple of years.
Also notable for its brand of lead drumming is “Monsoon,” which rocks harder than it should, since it is mid-tempo at best. It’s a wonder what constant snare and tom rolls can do for a song.
If you’ve noticed a decided lack of lyrics quoted in this review, let me take this opportunity to explain why. See, these guys don’t feel that their music should have to quiet down for words. The lyrics are there, but usually buried in layers of noise, My Bloody Valentine style. One exception is the single “Relative Ways,” which comes too close to sounding like a Sonic Youth cover for its own good. Trail of Dead will get sick of such comparisons, but this track shows they’re not without merit. You’ll swear it’s Thurston Moore singing, “an electric guitar hanging to my knees/ got a couple of verses I can barely read.” You’ll think the melody is really familiar, was it on Washing Machine?
But mostly, you’ll just enjoy it.