Long ago, or so it seems, Pitchfork gave Austin’s Trail of Dead, the highest honor, a perfect ten for their album Source Tags and Codes. Since then, the band has experimented with various changes in sound and direction, and it seemed, unfortunately, that people had gradually begun to look the other way. Century of Self is perhaps the album that gets them back on top of it all.
When “Far Pavillions” gets under way, listeners are greeted with the bombastic drumming, as pounding rhythms blast through the speakers. The call and response vocals recall a greater day when post-punk definitely had its hold over the world; its a credible start to the album, and what some might call a return to form.
In previous efforts, the band might go off at this point, jumping in a new direction, but this time around, they keep right at it, as a large wall of sound crushes listeners, in a good way. Once again, the drumming is spectacular, and it continuously pushes the band forward. “Isis Unveiled” is a somewhat epic tune, sprawling out over six minutes, all of which keep your attention.
Then we are visited by the softer, slower elements of the group. “Halycon Days” and “Bells of Creation” take a different approach to the audience, slowing down the tempo, albeit momentarily. These songs demonstrate that the band has grown a great deal in the process of coming to this album, yet they still maintain a certain sense of impending doom and chaos, which is precisely what this band has always been known for in the past. Here we find them able to soothe you in a moment, and then crush you the next. A perfect balance of sorts.
All of a sudden, the band hold it all back, throwing what one would call some ballads at the listener. “Luna Park” is somewhat of an unexpected turn on the album, as its driven primarily be gentle piano work, coated in guitar accompaniment. Honestly, if it had come at a different time, as far as album placement goes, this would be one of the many highlights on this record. There is a personality to this song that hasn’t been present in past efforts. But, this is also where the album switches gears.
From here on out, the album has a different sense of urgency. Songs like “Pictures of an Only Child” and “Insatiable Two” show that the band may have just outgrown the ferocity they once held. Sure, there are still elements in the latter half that are pleasing in an aesthetic sense, but its a bit of a juxtaposition when compared with the first half of the album. While one side presents a fierceness that dares you to hold on tight, the other side wants to draw you in closely.
Its precisely this element that makes the album a little bit uneven. In a way, they’ve crafted the perfect LP. Side one is full of a barrage of shear noise and pace. Side two is a slow drive down a carefully soundscaped highway. Either side surely can stand up on their own, both with lots of quality, but when thrown together, its a bit of an odd combination. Then again, the band has never been one to worry about falling along a prescribed path. They prove their willingness to follow their own path with Century of Self, and we’ve got to respect that.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/09-pictures-of-an-only-child.mp3]
Download: Trail of Dead – Pictures of an Only Child [MP3]