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Fricke's Picks: An Epic Racket By Texas' Trail of Dead

POSTED:
Conrad Keely of And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Conrad Keely of And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Nick Pickles/Redferns/Getty Images

This is why record stores still matter. In February, I was busy spending money at Music Millennium in Portland, Oregon when I caught a major guitar squall coming over the shop's stereo. It was hard to tell if it was individual songs of splashy orchestral jangle, played by a band in rapid succession, or one crazy-quilt piece of heavy-prog rock.

It was, as the clerk at the counter informed me, both: "Strange News From Another Planet," the five-part 16-minute endgame on the new album, Tao of the Dead (Richter Scale) by Texas racket squad . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. The bummer: I couldn't buy it yet. The store had an advance copy. But the preview made me want one, bad.

Out now, Tao of the Dead comes with two suites – the eleven-track title piece is the front chunk of the record – and they are both noise-dream teamings of Sonic Youth circa 1990's Goo and the serpentine excitement and treble-guitar spires of Yes' 1972 album, Close to the Edge. "Strange News . . . " begins with a wide screen of howling-amp harmonics and cavalry-charge percussion. At one point, in a section subtitled "The Ship Impossible," the guitars start climbing over each other in a clanging-irons fugue.

There is also an exciting discipline to the furor. "Pure Radio Cosplay," the opening salvo of the "Tao" suite, is an on-your-feet-or-outta-the-way gallop, like Blue Öyster Cult loaded on Sixties-Texas acid; "Summer of All Dead Souls" is its own mauling mosaic of flash-flood drum rolls, stuttering-riff clamor and howling-harmony vocals. Trail of Dead's founding leaders, singer-drummer-guitarists Jason Reece and Conrad Keely, made Tao of the Dead with a slimmer quartet version of the group. By reining in the sprawling violence of the band I first saw in Texas in the mid-Nineties, they have upped the quality and tension of the mayhem.

And this is one record that you shouldn't buy as a download. Keely, who wrote the lyrics, has created an accompanying graphic novel. The opening panels, even compressed for the CD booklet, are a genuine eye banquet.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

David Fricke

Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke has more than 10,000 albums in his New York apartment. His first record review for the magazine was Frank Zappa's 'Sheik Yerbouti' (RS 290).

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