SXSW 2009: Forget Not Those Buzz Bands of Yore


Hard to believe a record with this cover could be chaotic, right?

Trail of Dead (Mohawk)
SWXW Thursday Afternoon, March 18

Years from now, when someone writes a book called The Fucked-Up Music Biz, 2000-2010, Austin’s (…And You Will Know Us by the) Trail of Dead will hopefully receive their own chapter: a defiantly independent, remarkably violent emo-punk juggernaut struggling with major-label expectations, not to mention an equally violent indie backlash. (Their consecutive-album Pitchfork rating swing from 10.0 to 4.0 has to be a record.) But they soldier on, as ambitious and unwieldy and excessive and volatile as ever, February’s The Century of Self flaunting their taste for rock bombast but tossing in plenty of prog breakdowns and piano etudes as well. Crowded onto a suddenly tiny Mohawk stage, with often three guitarists bashing simultaneously, they’re both an amusing and inspiring sight.

The Century stuff works fine, the piano stuff a bit heavy-handed, but the best of it still moored to their mastadon stomp and the good cop/bad cop vox of Jason Reece and Conrad Keely. But the highlights come at the very end, in the person of two songs from their 4.0: Worlds Apart, a bit of a chaotic mess to be sure, but with at least two bangers to recommend it. “Will You Smile Again?” is probably the best prog-metal song about Brian Wilson ever written, a slow burn bookended by stupendous eruptions of instrument-bashing angst; the blunter, rowdier “Caterwaul” gives Reece (the bad cop) a chance to leap into the crowd, nearly strangling passersby with his mic cord as he saunters around. The Next Big Things look wan and sleepy by comparison.