AND YOU’LL KNOW THEM BY THEIR TAO Trail of Dead

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, they did 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.”

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