In my mind ...the And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead album, "Source Tags & Codes” is one of the best albums of all time (behind Sebadoh’s Bakesale…my #1 until I die). Not because the 2002 TOD release from the Austin TX natives was the only album that ever received a Pitchfork 10.0 rating (the only one I’ve ever seen)…cause lately I haven’t taken too much stock the pitchfork reviews (some current recommendations I did not agree with…too critical/wordy...even for me). The basics of a review in my mind are - Does it rock? How does it rock/sound? What genre of music is it? Life-changing? How does it compare to their past work/other bands? Is it a “grower”?
The TOD ep “Secrets of Elena’s Tomb” immediately following Source Tags was phenomenal as well (download “Crowning of a Heart”). Theeeen something happened with the following two albums “Worlds Apart” & “So Divided”. They completely side-stepped the “pounding guitar/drums, experimental stop/start, interlaced with backing melodic vocal” aspects. Ha! Worlds Apart was a wannabe in-your-face follow-up to STAC but turned into a pop princess that tried to be “edgy”. It’s like the sophomore slump for a 3rd year freshman. “So Divided” went for a prog-rock-opera-esque something or other. Slow and experimental…aka boring. Every time I would see TOD live they would get drunker and drunker and drunker with the music that suffered (“they blew it”). Piss poor shows combined with the post STAC releases made me “write them off”. Don’t get me wrong…there are a few rockin tracks on WA & SD but nothing comparing to the aforementioned STAC and SOET ep (I work in marketing…acronyms are my game). There were a few older albums before STAC…raw, fuzzy and unorganized. Not bad…but not essential to your collection.
This takes me to the review in question...the latest EP “Festival Thyme”. Verdict = Back to form. It totally rocks like Source Tags but has some new elements to it (i.e. title track). Kind of like the new Metallica album…Master of Puppets…with a twist. I feel that once Interscope dumped the band given the last two flops…they sobered up (literally) and got back to a more straight forward approach. The first track “Bells of Creation” is so refreshing. I thought – “Ahhh…they’re back”. This will be included on the TBD full length. More loud harmonies via Conrad Keeler vocals and loud-pounding guitar/drums. HOWEVER, this lead-off track has (machete mix) next to it. Doesn’t sound like a remix so I hope they don’t blind-side me with some crap LP. The second track “Inland Seas” is just as rockin as the first with some “LOUD then soft” aspects to it with piano mixed in but it doesn’t take away from their signature sound (not a ballad)…intro is pretty damn sweet. That’s what I loved about the band from the beginning…intros (download “Another Morning Stoner”). Title track “Festival Thyme” is a bit more light-hearted but catchy and brings in more piano melodies in which rounds out the EP. The final track “The Betrayal of Roger Casement and the Irish Brigade” is just what the title suggests…a long and obscure instrumental…but again…loud…it brings in some great harmonies and non-stop almost muted guitar at times that can cause you to zone out a bit…but very enjoyable nonetheless. The track titles worry me about another rock-opera attempt but the music is good so I really don’t care.
The Festival Thyme EP is not a “life-changer” but given what came before it’s clearly a solid listen. It’s not one of those EPs that has one good track packaged with 3 or 4 downers. “All and all” I have it on heavy rotation and I’m pretty confident that the new LP (comes out sometime in ‘09) will be good if they stick with this current formula. -TommyC