|Rating: 4.5 / 5
Reviewer: Greg Hutton
…and You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead has had the unenviable job of spending the last decade of their career fighting to escape the shadow of their much-lauded 2002 release, Source Tags and Codes. To their credit, ToD have never tried to make Source Tags II or rest on established formulas. That said, their (some would say overly) ambitious attempts at melding punk, prog, and symphonic elements for the follow up records Worlds Apart and So Divided were critically panned. Whether those records were really as terrible as critics insisted is debatable; an argument can be made that the band was subject to a case of indie-rock backlash inversely proportional to its Source Tags success. Recent years have found ToD inching back into critics good graces, with well-regarded 2009 and 2011 releases, a trend that continues with Lost Sounds.
Lost Sounds begins with the pummeling ‘Open Doors’ alternating between a seething verse and one of the better vocal hooks Conrad Keely has ever committed to tape. ‘Open Doors’ more or less sets the tone for an album that rarely dials back on its focused aggression, which is amped up even further on the following track ‘Pinhole Cameras’. Whereas ToD may have tended to drift into the tangential on songs like these in the past, nothing here feels superfluous or overdone, as the brief instrumental interludes on both continue to propel them forward. This is the sound of a band with something to say.
It isn’t until the album’s midpoint that the band lets up with the one-two of the title track and ‘Flower Card Games’ and even then the derivation from the established path is minimal. ‘Lost Songs’, with its running time of two minutes, is a short centerpiece that laments the current lack of rock songs with anything to say: “Lost songs are going nowhere / Lost for words with nothing to share.” These lines could read as the album’s mantra, especially when considered with Keely’s statements about its inspirations, which include civil war in Syria and a dedication to Pussy Riot. ‘Flower Card Games’ stands out as one of the album’s catchiest songs, repeatedly returning to a murky bass turnaround that also serves as an effective hook. Considered together, these songs allow some room to breathe without lessening the urgency of ToD’s message nor interrupting the overall flow of the album.
Lost Songs‘ second half alternates between the bombast of its opening section and its slower-paced middle. Straight-forward rock songs like the single ‘Catatonic’ and ‘Bright Young Things’ are shuffled with the more downbeat ‘Awestruck’ and ‘Time and Again.’ Tellingly, only one of the songs on the latter half of the album exceeds four minutes.
Given ToD’s career trajectory, it is difficult to consider their new material without also relating it to the remainder of their discography. That said, Lost Sounds deserves to be heard as an entity all its own, standing as a testament to the power of this band when they are on top of their game. This is not just a very good album as compared to Source Tags, it is a solid album in its own right.
An enhanced version of the CD offers a couple of different paths for experiencing the album, one that includes bonus tracks and another ‘segued’ version wherein each track flows seamlessly into the next. Given the album’s overall cohesiveness, the segued version may emerge as the preferred arrangement.