Texas rockers ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead return with their sixth full-length effort, The Century of Self. The bands newest long player is the follow-up to So Divided, which was a polarizing album for their fans. Following the release of that album Trail of Dead eventually split from their relationship with Interscope Records. As a result this album was written and recorded free of all contract obligations, allowing the members of the band to write the album that they wanted to write. The Century of Self is the end product of a group of musicians assembling the songs of their hearts desire, free of the record industrys pollution.
The Century of Self opens with The Giants Causeway, which borrows heavily from a Pink Floyd-ian grandeur as it marches towards its climaxing point. The band then launches forward with Far Pavilions, which echoes to the bands earlier recordings. Rather than a polished pop meets art-rock sound, this song brings a more rock-infused post-punk styling. The guitars are more distorted, matching the fuzzed out bass tones and full sounding percussion. All of this is likely due to the bands decision to track the recording in a live setting, a sound the benefits songs written in this demeanor.
Isis Unveiled follows and is mesmerizing six and a half minutes. From the straight up rocking of the first half of the song to the scaled back decomposition and less-is-more style throughout the mid-section, it is an exercise in daring songwriting. And when the band decides to bring it all full circle to the opening style, it concludes a spectacular song.
In spite of the bands labeless status during the writing and recording, there isnt much experimenting in vastly new or daring directions, something one might expect from an independent artist. Sure, there are the occasional moments, but there is nothing on The Century of Self that we havent heard on their previous ventures. Trail of Dead continues to fuse their post-punk inspired rock with stylistic flair. Fields of Coal mixes a rambling Modest Mouse-reminiscent vocal performance from Conrad Keely with an operatic sing-along laden rock number. Inland Sea is perhaps most reminiscent of the style of Worlds Apart, making significant use of pianos and pushing the focus to Keelys soothing melodious vocals.
Of all the songs of The Century of Self, I would say that the one I enjoy most is Luna Park. It is a cool, relaxed Sunny Day Real Estate-esque sound partnered with a mellow jazz vibe. Its an absolute delight. Ascending is another favorite, a Fugazi-like meandering post-punk cut layered with a slight pop-feel that youve come to expect from Trail of Dead.
On the other hand, we have songs like Bells of Creation and Pictures of an Only Child. The former is half-failed attempt at an Oasis pop-rock direction while the latter is a lukewarm mid-tempo piece that fails to evoke the feelings one might expect from the songs title. Insatiable One attempts a theatrical spaghetti western sound, which is revisited on closer and accompanying piece Insatiable Two. The latter of which maintains a waltz pace throughout. Neither really develops into anything worth nothing, which is unfortunate.
The Century of Self documents a band in transition between the vice-grip of a major label contract and a band free to create as they please. I found the majority of the album to be quite enjoyable but there is the occasional lack of focus that detracts from the overall flow of the album. Regardless, Trail of Dead remains a force to be reckoned with in the indie rock world and their live shows further cement their place atop the pile of wannabes and next big things.
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