I could spend the next several hundred words completely eviscerating Tao of the Dead, the latest offering from Austin jam/prog hippies …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, because I don’t really enjoy this album much at all. In fact, to my ears, it embodies all the worst things about stoner hippie jam bands and pretentious, long-haired, Dream Theater-esque prog metal (note: I don’t find many good things about those two “genres”). But I don’t much feel like being a Negative Nelly, since this week marks the third anniversary of Bollocks! and I’m trying to keep things festive and light.
So instead, I’m asking you, if you read this blog and in any way enjoy …And You Will Know Us by Our Pretentious Fucking Band Name, can you please – seriously – explain to me what it is about them that appeals to you?
To me, there are moments of beauty within several of the songs on Tao of the Dead, but they’re always surrounded by dull, ready-ready-for-hard-rock radio vocals and/or pretentious, jammy horse shit. Is the jammy stuff supposed to be the good stuff? Am I waiting for a really blistering guitar solo (in which case, wouldn’t I just listen to Dinosaur Jr.)? I haven’t heard any yet. Am I listening to the album correctly? It’s streaming on Spinner right now, so I thought I’d check it out for free. Perhaps there’s a problem with my web browser? Nope. Everything seems to work fine. I just don’t get what the fuss is all about.
Perhaps the appeal of …And We Will Find Home by the Trail of Bread lies in their audacious pretension (I suppose all pretension is somewhat audacious, isn’t it?). And it would be hard to argue that Tao of the Dead is unpretentious with a straight face; apparently it’s supposed to be two tracks comprised of sixteen “movements” (the first eleven tracks are movements 1-11, called “Tao of the Dead”, and the twelfth track is the last five movements, called “Strange News from Another Planet”). And then there are the song titles. Opening your prog-hippie-jam album with a song called “Let Us Experiment” is fairly pretentious (not to mention a big red flag for me), but how about having a song called “Weight of the Sun or the Post-Modern Prometheus”? Consider this a prediction: “Weight of the Sun or the Post-Modern Prometheus” is going to end up being the most pretentious song title of 2011. It has to be. But is that it? Is …Andrew Will Show Us Why the Snail is Red only “good” because of how outlandishly, theatrically, and – yes – monstrously ostentatious they are?
I know (I know) someone is going to say that …And You Will Know Us by the Totally Un-Fucking-Necessary Ellipsis at the Front of Our Band Name is not pretentious and that same someone is going to equate the band’s obvious technical proficiency with inherent musical quality. But I can’t get on board with that. I won’t argue that …Rand Paul Will Blow Us by the Male Love Shed exhibits some technical chops on Tao of the Dead, but knowing how to cobble together some chords and scales and modes and whatnot (always a vital ingredient) doesn’t necessarily mean that it will result in great music. I argued about this ad nauseam with an implacable Yngwie Malmsteen fan who, I think, put way too much credence in technical exactitude and gave almost no weight to music that had, you know, a soul. Plenty of guys can play a bunch of notes and still bore me to tears. Some of those guys are clearly in …Hookers Get Bonus for the Sale of Head.
Tao of the Dead was composed in just two separate tunings (tracks one through eleven are in D, track 12 is in F), and yet it remains unclear to me why I need to be told that (I’m telling you so you can explain to me while you’re also patiently explaining to me why I should care about this band). When all this extraneous information is floating around an album (it doesn’t matter to me if you arranged twelve songs into 16 movements; it still sounds like twelve songs to me), it makes me feel like someone (the band or their fans, I suppose) is trying a little too hard to impress me. I kind of dig “Pure Radio Cosplay” and “Ebb Away”, but I don’t care what tuning was used to create them. Doesn’t matter to me at all. It is somewhat striking to me that one band can play so much music (the album is about one hour that feels like two) and yet I, as easy as breathing, can continue to not give a rusty rat-fuck about the bulk of it. Is it me? Or is it them? Apparently, it’s just me. Spin calls Tao of the Dead an “epic excursion.” No Ripcord says, “Those who decide to stick around will find a surprisingly unpretentious, well thought out orchestration which evokes a Richard Wagner piece had he been alive in our era.”
But I did stick around, No Ripcord. And that’s not what I found at all. I found a boring, overlong, super-pretentious album of pseudo-profound musings on… well, I’m not even sure. Also, I don’t want to split hairs here (okay, I do), but Wagner needn’t be alive for current music to evoke his compositions. His music didn’t die with him. What you probably meant to say was that Tao of the Dead is the album Wagner would make if he were alive today. I’m not a professional Wagner historian, but I’m not sure Wagner would be making jammy hippie prog if he were alive today. I believe Wilhelm “Dick” Wagner would be, in ambition and behavior, a lot more like Kanye West than most of us (including me) are comfortable admitting.
You know, I’m starting to get the feeling that …And You Will Make Us Toys Out of Lead (as they’re known in China) really appeals to those guys I always see at Guitar Center staring longingly at Line 6 amplifiers and drooling over goofy-ass pedals that say things like “Phaz-ur” and shit like that. This is a band for guys who could spend hours setting all their pedals and knobs to exactly the right specifications and then spend twenty minutes “improvising” a song that will remind you an awful lot of your dad’s vast collection of Rush records if you put them all on at once. There’s some good guitar stuff on Tao of the Dead, but it’s the kind of stuff that strikes me as way more fun to play than it is to listen to. Maybe …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead appeals to guys who are in bands exactly like …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. How convenient.