And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have managed to simultaneously confuse and intrigue by blurring the lines of the genres they so artfully bounce in and out of. Their sometimes proclaimed magnum opus, Source Tags & Codes proved to be a smooth transition from Merge Records to major label Interscope. They embraced the style of predecessors like Sonic Youth in terms of the avant garde guitar work by Kevin Allen, where there is a fine line between melody and dissonance, teamed with busy yet tactful drumming of Jason Reece, and Conrad Keely’s intelligent lyrics and display of vocal range, and were backed with enough money for all of this to sound clean and polished. They had a good thing going for them. As expected, this 2002 release was warmly accepted, getting rave reviews with most ratings surpassing 9 out of 10. …Trail of Dead had a lot of expectations to live up to for their next project. So did they buckle under the pressure? Well, maybe. They went on to release Worlds Apart, a puzzling ego trip for the band.
You are bombarded with a haunting, operatic overture of an intro with “Ode to Isis,” where you can barely make out the names of Egyptian kings being chanted. I would expect this sort of thing from an Opeth album, but not from them. This might leave you a little mystified, but piques your interest as to what can follow this. The title track “Worlds Apart” mocks the music industry for being full of unoriginal carbon copies. Lines like “They all sound the same to me / Neither much worse nor much better” are belted out facetiously by Keely who strangely sounds like a more falsetto version of Mike Ness. This track is a generic rock song, easily replaceable, yet it bears the oh-so clever moniker “Worlds Apart.” We are all supposed to see the farce in this. There’s enough music out there for us to roll our eyes at for sucking the life out of creativity. We don’t need a band that we depend on for their originality to remind us of this by parodying the kind of things we usually try to avoid. The majority of the remainder of the album mirrors “The Rest Will Follow”- a half heartfelt attempt at writing poignant, introspective lyrics sang with a guttural howl which just fails to make a deep connection to the listener because they have to sit through all too simplistic guitar riffs and drumming, and sleepy bass lines. However, “To Russia My Homeland” manages to be a perfect backdrop for waltzing at a masquerade ball, so it stands out quite significantly. “Caterwaul” hoards the remnants of what …Trail of Dead were on previous albums, and is probably the most substantial track on the album.
There are bursts of filler throughout the duration of the record that are comprised of things such as children cheering, interludes similar to “Ode to Isis”, spooky violin, and bouncy piano- …Trail of Dead attempt at eclecticism which is just overdone. It doesn’t aid in making Worlds Apart a more solid album, though it might just give you a confused look on your face. It’s just not appropriate because it accompanies tracks that are just catchy pop rock melodies more than anything else. They had the freedom to be progressive and experimental because they could never be tied down to one genre, but they have celebrated this to excess.
If this is your first taste of …Trail of Dead, you may gladly accept into your collection, and place it right next to your Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes, and Sparta records. If you’ve heard Madonna or Source Tags & Codes, you’ll wonder what happened to that experimental, artsy Texas quintet you bobbed your head to when your copy of Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine started to skip.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.