Originally published in Guitar World, March 2011
The indie rockers put their music in order with Tao of the Dead.
In an era of playlists and shuffle, it’s become more and more unusual for music fans to consume an entire album from start to finish. But indie-rock stalwarts …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead hope their fans will make an exception for Tao of the Dead, their new concept album. “That’s how I listen to albums, and how this album is supposed to be listened to,” says vocalist and guitarist Conrad Keely. “The sequence is there to be appreciated.”
With its labyrinthine songs (the final track clocks in at 16-plus minutes), improv freakouts and recurring musical themes, Tao of the Dead is indeed best experienced as a whole. A panoply of fuzzed-out guitar tones keeps the proceedings lively for the duration. “We really got into experimenting with different pedals and amps,” explains Jason Reece, who cofounded the band with Keely in the mid-Nineties and also sings and plays guitar. “We used a lot of pedals, like the Chicklet reverb and B:Assmaster bass fuzz that our friend Paul Barker, who used to be in Ministry, developed for his company, Malekko. We also relied heavily on the Electro-Harmonix POG, which can take something simple and turn it into an elaborate sound.”
The album was tracked during a whirlwind 10-day session at Sonic Ranch studios near El Paso, Texas, a facility that provided access to a staggering number of cool and legendary instruments for bands to use. “The bass on the album was used to record ‘Eight Miles High’ by the Byrds, and the guitar I played was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Fifties Fender Esquire,” Reece says. “I sort of felt that it was sacrilegious to be playing his guitar, because I’m not someone who spent time learning his licks.”
Reece does the guitar justice. His and Keely’s intertwining riffs are a growling riposte to the clean jangle so ubiquitous in modern indie rock. “These days, there’s this conservatism and restraint in rock music that’s really upsetting me, so I prefer to just ignore it,” Keely says. “We don’t feel an affiliation with anything else going on right now.”