Theatrical meditation on coming home
For a band to remain relevant for over a quarter of a century, they must be well-versed in the art of dramatics, something by name alone …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead has evidently mastered. The expansive synth-orchestras and impeccable use of dynamics prove their affinity for the grandiose but what sets their tenth studio release, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, apart from the rest of their catalog is its emotional maturity and humility; it also proves that the band has plenty to say and have not fizzled out.
Over the course of the past twenty-five years, the band has seen a revolving door of musicians come and go, however, it’s important to remember it began as a two-piece, featuring multi-instrumentalists Conrad Keely and Jason Reece. All this time later and the band finds itself back in its original incarnation.
Rather than writing a melodramatic “back-to-the-basics” record, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories is an honest testament to where and who they have been. Centering around feelings of displacement, likely due to Keely’s reluctant return to living in the United States, this release takes a unique position by reflecting on the space between now and then, instead of hyper-fixating on the past.
Tracks like “Something Like This” directly address the band’s palpable fear of being such a long-lasting group in a very meta way. “But I think those words went something like this/ and I’m sure the chords went something like this/ I don’t know if I can sing them like I did before/ or if I can feel them anymore,” Keely sings over pop-like guitar power chords. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead tastefully raise listeners’ and their own doubts about their ability to continue making relevant music and subsequently answer them in their execution.
While the sparse lyrics on this album are refreshingly authentic and genuine, it is the music that drives this release. Solely looking at lyric sheets may cause consumers to feel like this record is bland, over-generalized and simultaneously made for everyone and no one at once. Listening through the tracks though is an experience from beginning to end. It is this type of advanced musicality that makes X: The Godless Void and Other Stories a strong release.
More reminiscent of a film score than an indie-rock album, the album opens with the cinematic “The Opening Crescendo,” which introduces listeners to the range of sounds they will experience for the next fifty minutes. Resonant of a Hans Zimmer medley, from the first few minutes it is evident …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are here to impress.
The record manages to integrate all the recognizable parts of a typical indie-rock band while including an expansive range of unexpected tones and effects. While one track like “All Who Wander” opens with a traditional sturdy bassline, the next, “Something Like This,” opens with distorted tiny percussion. Alternating vocalists and adding distinct piano melodies only continues to set them apart.
While “Don’t Look Down” is very clearly the album’s standout track thanks to lyrics like: “I have another set of eyes/ I use to disguise the part of me that died/ I have another set of lives/ I use to describe the part that’s still alive,” the record reaches its musical peak in the penultimate song “Blade of Wind.” Opening with a twisted electronic version of a piano melody from earlier on the album, the band manages to merge psychedelic synths with ‘80s arena-rock. Between robotic backing vocals and a brief string section, this track is definitely the most musically diverse on the album and a good summation of the sounds the band is comfortable experimenting with.
Time is not always kind, but X: The Godless Void and Other Stories attests that it has been for the band. Just as many tracks are cyclical in nature, starting and ending in similar ways, it feels like the band has finally come full-circle. Keely and Reece, bandmates for decades and friends for much longer, have returned home in a sense. With this most recent release, the band balances their signature dramatics with modesty and reflects on just how far …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead has come in a quarter of a century.