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…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
IX Daniel Ross , October 21st, 2014 09:02

On their ninth album …And You Will Us By The Trail Of Dead are steadily continuing their journey towards being a Normal Rock Band, but remain unable to quite finish it. As far back as their first album they've been touring the various hotspots of psychedelia, punk, classical and world music, all with a maniacal, effervescent touch. Accuse them of failing at some of these stylistic endeavours, fine - but to their immense credit, they've never been mere genre dilettantes. Nor is IX a reactionary 'back-to-basics' attempt at shedding their excesses; it's confirmation that TOD haven't forgotten how to write exemplary, robust rock songs. Perhaps more importantly, they haven't forgotten how to balance them with well-placed sections of indulgence, either.

Confirming this bifurcated hypothesis, there's a breathless efficiency to the first half of IX. 'Jaded Apostles' sees Conrad Keely almost gargle himself dead attempting to blurt out his mythic words. 'Lie Without A Liar' has a monster chorus that would've tidied up the last Boris album. Basically, terrific slabs of pop make tectonic starting points for all the songs on the first side, which smacks of that 'back to basics' angle so beloved of bands unable to control themselves on previous records. But then, unexpectedly, just when you're preparing yourself for another 20 minutes of one-two pop punches, something marvellous happens - they revert back to glorious excess. 

When we reach 'How To Avoid Huge Ships', the album's first instrumental, it's the first of many reminders that this sort of derring-do prog caper is TOD's default setting in times of indecision. The tone does shift beautifully as a result, though, and we now find ourselves without anchor in a sea of bombast. Instrumental 'Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears' is the most typically close-eyed indulgent of all the works here, but it is at least fairly disciplined at less than four minutes long. 'Bus Lines' and 'Lost In The Grand Scheme' are less stringent with the timekeeping, but they are equally successful, all performed with gob and spit enough to impress. It's as if, like a child who desperately wants to eat a Wagon Wheel but must wait until they've finished their boring dinner, they've rushed through all the solid pop roughage just so they can indulge in something more luxurious. 

TOD are, miraculously given their longevity, still managing to remain interesting. In their full, marauding flight, they are still splendid to experience at high volume. Any loftiness they previously displayed (genre experiments have surely hit their post-Interscope sales hard and perhaps led to them filling the Electric Ballroom rather than the Roundhouse) has been gradually reined in over their last three albums, leaving them in this late-period state of balance. The band are yet to find their Götterdämmerung, but they are at least amiably smashing up everything on their path to doing so. IX proves that there's still a huge desire to unshackle themselves from musical formality, to fully embrace whimsy, but something isn't quite letting them do it. That's the tension that drives the whole record, and also what makes them fundamentally incapable of becoming that Normal Rock Band. Long may their journey remain incomplete. 

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