I always get scared when I listen to a new album by a band that I listened to in middle school. Throwing all the embarrassing angst that led me to terrible music aside, there are a lot of other things to worry about when it comes to still-active bands from middle school days. I remember a while back I was watching a documentary on The Clash, and Mick Jones said about the later days of the band: “It was cool being a punk when you were in your early 20s. But eventually you got to grow up. If you’re 40 and still acting like a punk, everyone’s just going to think you’re an idiot.” Pretty much every band I listened to in middle school (if they’re still playing music at all) either tried staying punks in their 40s and looking like idiots (maybe a band like Green Day? I don’t feel like getting angry emails so I won’t be too controversial here) or they tried to grow up but most everyone didn’t like the music the grown-up band put out (this is what happened to The Clash, and more recently The Strokes and Interpol).
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead seems to be the only exception to my middle-school-band rule. With IX, instrument-swapping college buddies Conrad Keely and Jason Reece has given us another album that sounds great and also sounds exactly like the other eight albums they’ve given us. They’ve never really grown-up, but they’ve also never really seemed like idiots, either. Trail Of Dead has more or less perfected a songwriting formula that they’ve never strayed from. Here’s the formula:
1) Write a decent four-minute alt-punk song with great shout-alongable vocals.
2) Write a really, really epic instrumental jam session around two-to-four minutes long.
3) Put the jam session in the middle of the alt-punk song or at the end.
So, sure, IX is just another execution of this formula, but the formula seems to be pretty fail-proof. Keely’s gargled vocals on “Jaded Apostles” are as commanding as those arena-rock drums; “How To Avoid Huge Ships” is a cathartic instrumental that sounds like what would happen if you didn’t avoid a huge ship; and the piano and strings on “Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears” make the overly-dramatic title justified.
I wonder why Trail Of Dead named this album IX? (Apparently the band named it after a Frank Herbert Planet in Dune, but I'm going to ignore that for now.) Maybe they’ve just run out of album titles. Or maybe they want to remind us that, hey, they’ve put out nine great albums, albeit formulaically great. After listening to IX for several days, I started to journey back to previous Trail Of Dead albums, which will probably make March my Trail Of Dead Appreciation Month. There’s absolutely nothing surprising coming out of IX for anyone who’s familiar with Trail Of Dead, but it makes you take a step back to appreciate a band that’s been putting out epic rock music for 20(!) years. While all these other bands are putting out 8/10-, 9/10, or maybe even 10/10-worthy albums and then break up a few years later, Trail Of Dead will still be around to put out another album we can all depend on to be a solid 7/10 all the way through.
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