Published on BLURT – Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011
The Austin rockers align with a down-to-earth philosophy.
BY ANNAMARYA SCACCIA
Almost as if nature dictates it, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (Jason Reece and Conrad Keely) has returned the only way they could – by releasing the enormous oeuvre that is TAO OF THE DEAD.
Released February 8 through Trail of Dead’s Richter Scale Records Imprint and Superball Music, TAO OF THE DEAD is the seventh full-length in a long line of deeply intense and expansive records from the Austin-based indie rock outfit. The album’s title is a play on Tao Te Ching, the classic Chinese text attributed to Laozi essential to Philosophical Daoism that inspired the longplayer. But this inspiration wasn’t intentional, says Reece. Instead, it was a pure coincidence – Tao Te Ching just happened to be lying around the studio while they were doing scratch vocals. Still, he was attracted to it, initially because of its similarities to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which he was reading at the time.
“I was impressed with the philosophy. [It] was very practical, how to meet problems and face adversity on a very practical level,” Reece says. “It wasn’t like some kind of weird, mysterious, poetic thing you had to translate.”
“Daoism is the most down-to-earth from a lot of the Eastern philosophies I’ve read about,” says Keely. “It is really close to how you should try to lead your life.”
In a way, TAO OF THE DEAD could be perceived as more “down-to-earth” than their previous works – at least, in the audible sense. Where 2009’s The Century of Self was more visceral and somber, TAO OF THE DEAD sounds more restrained in its frenzy – more grounded and faster in energy. This disparity in resonance, though, is merely superficial and interpretative. Yes, this record was more collaborative, and yes, theydid team up with Chris “Frenchie” Smith for production after 12 years (Smith worked on Trail of Dead’s 1998’s self-titled LP), but TAO OF THE DEAD, still ripe with trademark fantasy, is an extension of themselves and their craft, not a deliberate side-step or reinvention of the wheel. And, to experience it means more than flippant listens to the first few tracks.
“I think of our records as an on-going continuation, a kind of journey,” says Keely, who designed TAO OF THE DEAD‘s cover art and will feature it during Trail of Dead’s North American co-headliner spring tour with the equally idiosyncratic guitar-rock virtuosos Surfer Blood. “[TAO OF THE DEAD] is a logical progression from what we’ve done in the past. It’s not a divergence. We haven’t had some crazy, drastic life change that has caused us to write music any differently. But rather, we’re trying to refine and achieve a vision we had for a long time [that an album can be a cohesive whole] and this possibly is the closest we’ve gotten to it.”
Read a shorter version of this article in BLURT’s upcoming spring issue!