It actually makes me feel somewhat guilty to still be writing mindless reviews such as these, but I know that no one can stop me from doing so. Hah.
Tao of the Dead
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
8 February 2011
It was with much caution that I approached …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s latest album; the band’s numerous previous outings had been mostly a snoozefest, with only a handful or so tunes worth hitting the repeat button for.
I promptly lowered my expectations, fully prepared to be assaulted by yet another cacaphony of unintelligible noise. And so it was very much a pleasant surprise to find that Tao of the Dead is quite probably the closest Trail of Dead album there is, to topping the brilliance that was 2002’s Source Tags & Codes.
Tao of the Dead was actually recorded in just 10 days, but it does not make it any less ambitious. Part I to this two-part record contains 11 tracks that play on seamlessly one after another. There will always be that one song acting as anchor to your atypical Trail of Dead album; here, the undeniable honour goes to “Pure Radio Cosplay” – bold and confident, it was as though the band were taking a potshot at themselves. From thereon, there is no looking back – from the loud rocking guitars in “Summer of All Dead Souls” to the flamboyant yet radio-friendly ballads such as “The Wasteland” and “Ebb Away”, it seems that the band can finally do no wrong. Even the 16-minute closer “Strange News from Another Planet”, aka Part II of this album, makes for a riveting affair from start to finish, so much so that it hardly feels that a quarter of an hour had gone past.
This is indeed a welcome return to form for the Trail of Dead.
15 February 2011
Montreal-based collective The Dears is back, though with much less drama this time than the last. The fluctuating number of band members that we saw previously has become a thing of the past; The Dears is now healthily reinstated with the (hopefully) permanent appearance of a few players, in addition to the married duo of Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak.
This results in a more consistent approach to Degeneration Street, as The Dears treads on familiar territory – one that sees them employing the use of the usual instruments and jangly sounds, and a second Morrissey, courtesy of Lightburn’s vocal tones. In fact, the band seems to be playing it too safe; the album eventually ends up being a recognisable mash of new material put together like a pack of instant noodles, lacking the usual meat and punch, and not offering anything groundbreaking or delicious enough to please some of its more demanding fans. (I meant myself, of course.)
I thought Degeneration Street is devoid of the catchy hooks and magical riffs that The Dears used to do so well. To me, the pensive “Tiny Man” and maybe “Unsung” are probably the album’s only saving grace.
Build a Rocket Boys!
7 March 2011
The subeditor in me actually prefers the inclusion of a comma in the album title, but Elbow’s latest effort shows such generous amounts of humility and honesty, that minor slip becomes easily forgiven and forgotten. The Mancunian band’s distinct sound is still present here in Build a Rocket Boys!; they may have always possessed an uncanny ability to touch your heart without lifting a finger, and churn out thumping anthems without breaking even a sweat – but here, the hits are few and far in between.
That is not to say this is a bad album – sure, there are still the soaring choruses, carefully considered lyrics and frontman Guy Garvey’s guttural vocals that make up the signature sounds of Elbow. “The Birds” makes a great eight-minute opener, but the momentum seems to have dissipated right after the raunching “Neat Little Rows” (which hearkens back to the raucous “Grounds for Divorce” from their previous Mercury-Music-Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid (2008)). It then suffers somewhat from a quiet midsection that is about four songs long, where we are almost lulled to sleep by Garvey and the occasional few unhurried pick of guitar strings or soft tinkling of piano keys. Thankfully, the album picks up again towards the end, finishing nicely with the heartfelt “Dear Friends”.
Build a Rocket Boys! seems to be taking an incredibly long journey to find its way into my heart; perhaps it is meant to be a grower, but I think I very much favour the instantaneous musical and emotional impact of their older albums.
Upcoming releases for 2011:
The Antlers, Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes, Incubus. See Metacritic’s release calendar here.