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.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.