And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Lost Songs (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

Lost Songs (2012)

Superball Music

And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead is never going to be a band that deals in small songs. Its two best albums, Madonna and Source Codes and Tags, took the energy of a hardcore band and filtered it through the grandiosity of '70s prog-rock, resulting in driving, visceral, howling guitar rock in which every song sounded like a life or death affair.

Lost Songs, the band's most recent and best album in years, recaptures some of that early energy by going small scale, at least in terms of Trail of Dead. No song goes longer than five minutes. Gone are the world music experimentation and overly-wrought attempts at being Rush. What's left is an album that is heavy on propelling drums and atmospheric guitar tones that manage to establish an urgent mood and suggest a grand scope.

The album's best songs, "Catatonic," "Lost Songs" and "A Place to Rest," succeed in creating a mini-world where everything is coming down all at once. "A Place to Rest," with its double-time guitar line and thunderous vocals, sounds like the kind of music a rock band would play while a Lovecraftian horror destroys a city. The muscular "Cataontic" is as close to pure hardcore as the band has come in a decade, while "Lost Songs" is a propulsive little track that transitions nicely into the album's strongest songs in the middle third of the record.

Overall, the record seems to have a clarity of purpose that has long been missing from the band's work. It is, in fact, the album's three longest songs that are the least memorable. "Open Doors," "Pinhole Cameras" and "Up to Infinity" attempt to re-establish the "attack-retreat-attack" pattern that served the band so well on Source Codes without ever truly delivering. Tracks like "Heart of Wires" and "Opera Obsura" thread this particular needle much more successfully.

The prevailing feeling of Lost Songs is a restatement of purpose. By trimming all of their pro tendencies beyond a desire for grandiosity, Trail of the Dead have made their best album in years, a collection of songs that call back to better days without aping them outright.