As a music fan there are certain bands which I consider “my own”, by that I mean bands that I have followed since their inception and that no other people’s recommendations have got me interested in them aside from the DJ or record shop that played them the first time I heard them. One of these bands is …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (hereafter referred to as Trail of Dead as I can’t be arsed to keep typing the full name!), I first remember hearing “Prince With A Thousand Enemies” from their self-titled debut on the John Peel show in 1997 and instantly thinking “these guys are good!”.
Like most bands in this category if I’ve stuck with them this far then I’m likely to be receptive to whatever they release, even the widely denigrated fifth album “So Divided“, their weakest by far, but for me there are lots of albums that got more critical acclaim at the time that I liked far less! The one glaring exception to this is the band Idlewild who blotted their copybook big style in my eyes with their, imho, very limp album “Warnings/Promises”, but that’s a discussion/rant for another day!
So here we have the seventh Trail of Dead album proper, “Tao of the Dead”, and it arrives with some of the most over the top packaging I’ve seen since Roger Dean album artwork was de rigueur! I had pre-ordered the limited edition 2CD release which also includes a book with pop-up art containing a sample of a graphic novel and a 30-page short story both written and drawn by Conrad Keely, the band’s main songwriter and vocalist/guitarist/drummer/pianist (as both he and Jason Reece swap roles on record and on stage it makes this clarification pretty meaningless!).
The graphic novel, short story and as far as I can tell the lyrics revolve around a steam-punk, retro-futuristic world where Victorian fashions and morals butt up against aircars, fox-headed strangers and an environment where the only land are floating islands. Clearly Conrad has put a lot of thought into this story (the EP that preceded their previous album “Century of the Self” in 2008 was called Festival Thyme which is the name of the vessel in the story) and having read the graphic novel sample would be interested to read more.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about the music not Conrad Keely’s comic book aspirations.
In interviews Keely has stated how in his youth the consumption of his favourite music was done by listening to whole albums as one piece of music (eg. Rush’s Hemispheres, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) and he wanted people to listen to Tao of the Dead as a whole, and to attempt to achieve this and to maybe cock a snook at the culture of single track downloads, the first CD in the 2CD set consists of just two long tracks; Part One: Tao of the Dead (thirty five minutes, basically the first 11 album tracks mixed to be one long track) and Part Two: Strange News From Another Planet (sixteen minutes, one track made of 5 segments). The second CD contains stand alone versions of the eleven tracks that make up Part One and a 32 minute track called The Bubble Demo, which turns out to be a rough demo version of Part One.
After a gentle intro we hear Conrad’s voice saying “Let’s experiment then” and the record crashes forth with “Pure Radio Cosplay”, sounding unmistakably like Trail of Dead, this leads into the more rock blast of “Summer of all Dead Souls”. As the tracks are seamlessly mixed on this version it now becomes trickier to separate the tracks and it is very easy to believe this is just one long piece of music, this feeling is reinforced when “Pure Radio Cosplay” is reprised towards the end of the “track”, the sprawling six minute “The Fairlight Pendant” ends Part One and following that the sixteen minute Part Two seems almost sprightly in comparison! However, Part Two is, for me, one of the highlights of the album. Apparently recorded in a different tuning to the first part (F as opposed to D according to good old Wikipedia!) it does sound different, although still sounding like Trail of Dead. It’s an epic track though, even following the scale of the first part and what I said about it feeling like one piece of music, Part Two was clearly written from the start as one piece of music, flowing effortlessly as it does from gentle passages to searing “tear the place up” blasts, I predict this will be staggering live!
Although the artwork and the track set up all point to Trail of Dead becoming Yes part two, do not fret, although these factors do indicate prog leanings, the music itself is never overtly pretentious or plodding, it still retains the fire and bluster that has always made this band’s records (and especially their live shows) exciting. I’ve got a ticket to see them do a joint headliner with Rival Schools in Manchester in April, and now I am seriously looking forward to it!
Listen to the whole album on Spotify or check out “Summer Of All Dead Souls” on Soundcloud or “Weight of the Sun” on Youtube below;
You can also check out their Electronic Press Kit if you so desire, it’s pretty funny;