Wednesday, October 17, 2012

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Source Tags and Codes

Release Date: February 26, 2002

It Was There That I Saw You
Another Morning Stoner
How Near, How Far
Relative Ways
Source Tags & Codes

It’s probably been about ten years since I first heard ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. They were the musical guests on Conan’s show some time ago. A much simpler time; back when I was still in college and Conan still hosted good musical acts... But I digress. Singer, Conrad Keely, doesn’t have the strongest of voices, but the energy Trail of Dead played “Relative Ways” with was so infectious I drove over to Vinyl Fever (RIP) the very next day to pick up a copy of their new and critically acclaimed album, Source Tags and Codes. It did not disappoint.

After the introductory instrumental, the first full song, “It Was There That I Saw You,” could be seen as Trail of Dead’s mission statement, an extraordinary blend of 70’s glam, post-hardocre and those excellent quiet/loud dynamics established during the 90’s; the pinnacle of the track comes during the instrumental passage about halfway through, where Conrad Keely and Jason Reece dual it out with guitar arpeggios, trading punch for punch before chaos erupts. “Another Morning Stoner,” the highlight of the album, almost solely relies on those guitar arpeggios from start to end, which allows the drums and bass to not only carry the melody, but the shift in dynamics from soft to loud. On the late 90’s screamo-sounding “Homage,” Keely displays how effortlessly he can go from quiet croon to guttural howl. “How Near, How Far” foregoes the standard 4/4 for a near constant snare-fill beat, driving the song momentously to a signature instrumental interlude before chaos ensues. Curtain call and title track “Source Tags and Codes” is the album’s softest entry; the distorted guitar picking melodies give it an undercurrent of gloomy discord, and the minute-long strings outro mimicking “How Near, How Far” cap off a damn near flawless hard-rock record.

American Football - S/T

Release Date: September 14, 1999

★★★★★ Tracks:
Never Meant

When Cap’n Jazz broke up each member began a new project that furthered the spread of 2nd-wave emo. Of those spin-offs, the instrumental outfit Ghosts + Vodka was created by guitarists Victor Villareal and Sam Zurick, The Promise Ring, created by Davey von Bohlen was the poppiest and most successful of the spin-offs, Joan of Arc, created by Cap’n Jazz frontman Tim Kinsella, the most pretentious and avant-garde, and American Football, created by drummer and brother to Tim, Mike Kinsella, has the sound that most closely resembles late 90’s/early 00’s emo. Not quite as eccentric, Mike enjoys and excels at writing luscious guitar melodies (further evidenced by his later solo spin-off project, Owen), and as the drummer in Cap’n Jazz, Mike shows how multi-instrumentally talented he is by combining those intricate guitars with math rock time signatures. This might sound a bit pretentious, but I’d say good musicians simply enjoy the challenge of writing complex material. And the hooks are still hooks. The opening track on American Football’s self-titled album is its best; “Never Meant” builds upon some technically savvy hammer-on and finger-slide electric guitar picking with oddly syncopated drums and Mike’s signature soft tenor, drummer Steve Lamos speeds it to half-time for good measure halfway through. Through the opening four minutes of the album you can hear the makings of 100s of emo bands to follow. “The Summer Ends” follows with a long instrumental interlude before Mike comes back in with youthful love and the insecurities that always come with it. Then comes “Honestly?” with the album’s best lyrics:

Honestly I can’t remember
All my teenage feelings
And the meanings
They seemed too see-through
To be true

A long instrumental passage follows after the second verse, closing out the other strong highlight on American Football. Kinsella and Co. were highly influential to a lot of music most people never listened to, this is true. But other than the two highlights listed above, I rarely find myself revisiting American Football’s only full-length; I’m a pop fan by nature, and my inclination keeps me fully entrenched in Davey von Bohlen’s camp. His interpretation of this underappreciated genre with The Promise Ring is the paragon of the Cap’n Jazz spin-offs, Cap’n Jazz included, actually.