Feb 20 2022

Album Review: …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Source Tags & Codes (#MWE)

I lived in Austin, Texas, for ten years. Trail of Dead are a band from Austin, Texas. And I suppose, based on my cursory listen to their most acclaimed album, that’s probably the only thing we have in common. Band member Conrad Keely has said that some songs on Source Tags & Codes are about the joy of living in Austin in the 90s, surrounded by night life revelry and people on illicit substances. I am happy to report I did similar things two decades later, walking the same streets, doing the same drugs. So I’m fairly surprised that, based on that experience, this is what the band came up with.

I know artists draw inspiration from everywhere, not just their surroundings. Sonically, it’s clear they weren’t influenced by the sounds of Central Texas. That’s fine, because generally speaking, neither am I. But I guess I’m just nonplussed by sullen, and how unimaginative the whole affair feels.

The music on Source Tags & Codes is not the music I would have come up with. It’s not even that I likely wouldn’t produce a Sonic Youth type of dissonant, dour indie rock. That much is true, but it’s beside the point. It’s that Austin is great city, where great memories are made. The city inspires, if not great music, at least memorable music. At best, you get the pristine, minimal indie chops of Spoon. At worst, you get boring AAA Grammy bait like Black Pumas. But Trail of Dead fall somewhere in the middle, and that might be even worse – with Source Tags & Codes, the band made a fairly unmemorable collection of songs. It’s 45 minutes of morose mid-aughts indie rock that washes over the listener

I will say this about Source Tags & Codes: it keeps the listener engaged through a variety of approaches to the same general sound. “Another Morning Stoner” has the most memorable melody on the entire album. “Baudelaire” is angsty and angular. “Homage” is aggressive. “Heart In the Hand of the Matter” has some piano in there. But overall, the mood remains the same – it’s all a bit joyless, a bit unimaginative, and a bit indistinct. The end result leaves no lasting impression, which renders this writer a bit shocked, considering the heap of praise it received back in 2003. Perhaps it’s a matter of taste, but I find myself to be of an open mind, particularly in the realm of indie music. And Source Tags & Codes bored the hell out of me.

Score: 4/10