Oh boy oh boy oh boy, this thing is a MONSTER. It could not possibly hit more of my musical pleasure spots. Loud guitars, by turns dissonant and sweet? Check. Unusual root progressions and melodic bass? Check. Each song a mini-epic with strange but perfect little tempo changes and digressions? Check. Everything cranked up in the mix to saturate the stereo field and nearly drown out the screamy but still-melodious vocals? Hell yes. This record made me weep the first time I heard it, and it still does. Seriously: IT IS SO SO SO GOOD.
One of the many, many things that makes it work has to reside in the tension between (a) what are really, truly, objectively silly/pretentious/overwrought lyrics and (b) the absolute commitment with which they’re delivered. The insert’s artwork is evocative of nothing so much as the darker passages of an artistically-inclined outsider’s high-school journal.
I guess what I’m getting at is that this record is like the internal soundtrack of the teenage brain — obsessive, romantic, frequently inarticulate, occasionally tortured, often wide-eyed with wonder. That is a precarious aesthetic line to walk, and given how many bands have tried and failed, Trail of Dead’s successful navigation of said is totally remarkable.
Damn it. It’s great.
THOUGHTS FOR LATER:
- I have mostly avoided listening to any other albums by this band. (I did briefly own the preceding album, Madonna (Merge, 1999), but I can’t remember much about it.) This is on purpose, because there are many things about their approach that could go so, SO wrong, and I don’t want to see this group as anything other than perfect, in this one burst of expression from 2001-2. That is admittedly weird — and I don’t know of any other musician/artist about whom I feel that way — but let me live with my idiosyncrasies, thx.
- Interesting, kind of, to think about the timing of this release, which was right after music journalists had all decided for the umpteenth time that rock was dead, and just before the post-punk revival (Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, etc.) — i.e., as a seemingly isolated little record, outside of any contemporary trend/movement I can recall.