And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Madonna: Pitchfork Review

Cover Art
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

[Merge; 1999]
Rating: 8.4

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 is dawning.

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

Fri: 05-05-06

Wild Guitar
Column: Resonant Frequency

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