Music » Livewire

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

With the Sword and the Black. Tuesday, April 19, at the Grog Shop.

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It is, without exception, bad form for a group to sing derisively about MTV on a single that will actually find its way onto the network's rotation. This is something you'd expect from Jay-Z or late-period Duran Duran, not from Austin's Trail of Dead, kings of the volume-crackling mayhem and violent instrument smashings. Sure, the title track to the band's latest, Worlds Apart, is catchy as hell, but it's a toothless pop piece disguised as an Irish drinking ditty.

This after 2002's magnificent Source Tags and Codes, a piece of Dirty-era Sonic Youth with better hooks and more coming-of-age angst. Worlds Apart actually improves on that formula at the outset with "Would You Smile Again for Me," an ominous, multilayered joyride that in the end is nothing but a tease for what might have been. Because after that, primary frontman Conrad Keely and his buddies start to really take this "major-label sellout" idea seriously. To be sure, Keely has progressed as a song craftsman on piano-and-strings-laden pieces like "Summer '91," but the Trail of Dead has never been about strings and songs. What they are is a ball of unpredictable, crackling energy whose pop proclivities only accent that, not emasculate it and render it docile as the family pet.

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