...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are back in fine form with Tao of the Dead. It's not as coherent a concept album as 2009's The Century of Self, but some things never change. Trail of Dead is still raising that Green Day punk energy and harnessing it to a soaring post rock musical expression. The band continues to show off their deep understanding of dynamics. There are dropouts with rhythmic openness that fall prey to chaotic builds, then coalesce into something richer. The smooth transition of songs flow effortlessly through the album. The constant whipsaw from moments of calm to cathartic release is classic Trail of Dead technique.
The album is split into two halves: the 11 tracks of the main album and the epic 16 minute sprawl subtitled Strange News From Another Planet. The first half pulls in a Dramarama style power pop on songs like Pure Radio Cosplay. The song switches between the satisfying power pop drive and a Flaming Lips kind of post rock. The tight interplay between the instruments is perfect: the busy bass line meshes with the rich drum work while the guitars play counterpoint to each other.
Summer of All Dead Souls is the first single off the album. It starts with a Who style overture reminiscent of A Quick One then dives into a manic punk energy. The raging sneer of the vocals cuts like a scalpel.
The band has talked about their recent infatuation with Krautrock and this comes through on the electronic psychedelic groove of Spiral Jetty, which also features a wicked grinding guitar flail. Later, Somewhere Over the Double Rainbow evokes NEU. It builds intensity like a whitewater rapids. Then we're over the falls into a trippy electronic space with a steady bass line. Shrouds of feedback fog cling to the edges.
The extended Strange News From Another Planet is really a smaller collection of songs that are stirred together in a medley. A collection of voiceovers provide an interlude, but the same peak to valley leaps from overture to reflection fill out the track. The lyrics here are clearer, referencing the Tao Te Ching (e.g. verse 57).
Tao of the Dead is a fine addition to the Trail of Dead catalog. Sip a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA while you listen.