And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Fuckin' emo. Why is every decent indie rock band automatically pegged as emo
these days? Is it because the genre spawned such "groundbreaking" acts as Pedro
the Lion and Bright Eyes? While critics lazily lump creative bands like the
Dismemberment Plan and Les Savy Fav alongside Wolfie, a new day for post-punk
I recently saw the Austin, Texas-based band And You Will Know Us by the Trail
of Dead classified as emo in a review. How?! Explain that. Never once during
the entirety of Madonna does this band mention calendar months, a
girlfriend's eyes, lunchboxes or swingsets. No, they might not be singing about
anything as meaningful as sunshine and rainy hearts, but they deliver volume,
passion, talent, and original hooks.
"There is nothing left to say that has not been said," is the defining line
of Madonna's opening track, "Mistakes and Regrets." You can see where
the guy's coming from with that statement, too. For every perfectly phrased,
eye-opening thought that comes out of rock music, there are a million indie
pop bands singing about holding hands. Yet, these guys manage to pull off more
than just a few inspired lyrics.
The obvious point of reference for the Trail of Dead's sound is Sonic Youth's
Evol; the dark, chiming atmospheres and drawled vocals at times seem
directly lifted from "Expressway to Yr Skull" with the band adding their own
distinct characteristics. For instance, where Thurston Moore came off drugged
and disaffected, Trail frontmen Jason Reece and Conrad Keely channel a rawer
punk sound, spitting out lyrics vehemently and passionately.
"Totally Natural" begins with a distant tinny guitar and a gently picked,
clean-channel electric before the crashing attack of massive drums enter,
fueling the raging guitars and surreal, screamed vocals. Halfway through, the
song slows for a spoken verse, and then quickly mutates into a frenzy of
beaten noise for an explosive ending.
For the last few years, a popular theory in indie music has been that what makes
a good band isn't as much actual talent as it is having a great attitude.
Bullshit. As these guys prove, it's not only about having talent, but knowing
what to do with it. So, as emo attempts to stretch its 15 minutes out for as
long as it can, bands like Les Savy Fav, the Plan, and Trail of Dead will
probably be happy to help kick it while it's down by ushering in a new breed
of punk. It's about fucking time.
-Ryan Schreiber, October, 1999