Rhythm & Views

... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Austin's Trail of Dead appeared to have a good thing going when its grungy, chaotic music found major-label backing with Interscope. Their big-league debut, 2002's Source Tags and Codes, was a colossal collection of raucous, simmering jeremiads. Sadly, the group used their increased budget to overindulge their musical passions, which resulted in two bloated, pretentious and grotty albums of prog-rock. Now done with Interscope, Trail of Dead return as free agents with a markedly better album. Although it falls shy of the glory days, it suggests a brighter future.

Trail of Dead remain stubbornly unrealistic about their strengths (or desperately in need of editing). Always sensitive rebel-rousers, the band's interest in quietude means the second half of the album is almost all ballads, ranging from intriguing (the gritty honky-tonk "Luna Park") to unnecessary (the piano-waltz "Insatiable One," whose follow-up, closer "Insatiable Two," is a far-better full-band reprise).

Thankfully, they continue to challenge their strengths. With the rollicking pop of "Fields of Coal," the Celtic punk of "Isis Unveiled" and the midsong breakdown and climatic explosiveness of "Halcyon Days," the band push their talents to deeper limits. Even the album's sloppier moments, the not-quite-timed call-and-response rockers "Far Pavilions" and "Ascending," portend good things.

If Source Tags and Codes remains the gold standard, and 1999's Madonna the underappreciated gem, then The Century of Self rests comfortably at No. 3 in their anachronistic triptych of personal bests.

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