ALBUM REVIEW: … And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – XI: Bleed Here Now – Dine Alone Records

Some people don’t like surprises – they prefer things predictable, just so. But what would life be without surprises? I was surprised, for instance, when my good friend Ajax recited the closing lines of The Great Gatsby, at 4 AM, after a vat of cocktails (sours, rickeys, alexanders, the lot).

It shouldn’t really be a surprise how good XI is, given this Texas outfit’s history of commitment and excellence. But Jason Reece (vocals, drums, guitars), Conrad Keely (vocals, guitars, keyboards, piano, programming) and the rest have turned it up another notch to forge a modern-day masterpiece, highly personal but global in outlook and relevance, international in linguistics, epic in scope and ambition, passionate in its poetry.


…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead followers will embrace this twenty-two track heavyweight, as should all who still believe in a Golden Age Of Rock Music.

In an essay to accompany the album’s release, English-born Keely talks of that Golden Age, going back to the time before autotune, before Pro Tools, before “mind-numbing levels of compression”, of the albums he loved by Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Rush. He also talks of Ram Dass (Be Here Now, anyone?!), as well as “authenticity, humanity, revolution” and says right now “there is a sense that the time for frivolity and mindless decadence has passed”.

Much could be made of the quadrophonic surround sound, but I believe the emphasis here should not be on the art and craft of the sound of it but on the sound of the art and craft of it. There is great depth and variety – mythic, elegiac, contemporary. From ‘Field Song’: “Looking out at dust fields/ Moving straight and low/ Cracked tinted windows of/ A Greyhound leaving home/ Dull ache of sadness as she/ Thinks about her love/ Of standing on the porch with her family …”


From ‘Our Epic Attempts’ (and, later, ‘No Confidence’, and also the ultimate hymn, ‘Calm As The Valley’): “Calm as the valley of fields before the storm/ Come and rejoice in the bounty of our home/ No one in wont of desire or love/ Come and behold the great palace of our Lords.” And ‘Contra Mundum’: “Think it’s time to rearrange things/ In an order we can finally understand … Us against the world/ Thrown up against the wall/ Up against the ones who did you wrong/ Up against the ones who made you small …”

‘Golden Sail’, vocoder and all, is pure prog. ‘Taken By The Hand’ is redolent of sexed-up, emotional mysticism. ‘Penny Candle’? Gabriel? Genesis? Genius. ‘Protest Streets’ could be the best of the lot. Don’t get me started on ‘Water Tower’, or the superb ‘Millennium Actress’, with Amanda Palmer – there’s a word count here! Much of XI is sorrowful, wistful – doubt and disillusionment looming as dark shadows on the face of a still bright sun of hope and inspirational creativity. The rock and the rumble of it builds to an intense grandeur and, then, serenity.


“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther … And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


Buy the album here:


XI / X