It is only fair to state up front what biases I carried into
First and foremost, my only experience beforehand of this band
was the opening show they played for Superchunk (The Echo Lounge,
circa 2000.) I was less than impressed with that show, to be
perfectly honest. I thought that Trail of Dead were exceedingly
loud and exceedingly stupid, and I wondered aloud why Merge
even bothered to sign such a pointless act as this to their
otherwise respectable label. Not only did they not strike me
as a passably good band, they struck me even more so as "out
of place" and "annoying" in between two otherwise great (and
personal favorite) acts: Superchunk
and Crooked Fingers. In fact,
after that show I completely ignored anything and everything
about Trail of Dead for years to come.
So, going into this album, the band was on my bad side. From
the get-go they were more likely to get lambasted than lauded,
as far as I was concerned. Even when "the scene" began going
gaga over last year's Relative Ways EP I was unperturbed
and aloof. Surely, there was nothing remotely interesting about
this obscenely long-named band that should prompt me to bother
with them. I was confident that this was just another of a long
line of portentously over-hyped wonder-boys getting their ego
strokes from their equally pretentiously self-important scenester
friends. I was not going to fall for that bullshit.
And then came this album, and with it, continued critical praise.
I scoffed. Source Tags and Codes was lauded all
over the place as a truly great album, but I would not be
fooled. No, I would not fall prey to the marketing machine...
At this point it began to dawn on me that I might be being
just a bit stubborn about things, but the god's didn't assign
me The Sign of the Bull for nothing, brother. Still I withstood
against the forces of evil, or, marketing as the case may be.
And I felt very, very self-absolved over my enlightened state
of martyrdom, too.
So then Pitchfork
reviewed the album, right? And they gave it a perfect
review, something I'd never seen out of them before. And, well,
I once made a big crusade (or
at least a little fun) out of lambasting those guys over
there, so I figured "What the hell, worked one time, let's try
it again." Still utterly sure of myself and the impossibility
of this album's worth, working from a framework already heavily
biased against the album itself both from my personal experience
with the band and my general disdain for critical darlings,
I downloaded the album. Hell, I wasn't going to pay good money
for something I was surely going to despise. That would have
So I downloaded it, and I queued it up into the jukebox, hit
play and started surfing baseball newsgroups on USENET. (Hey,
it's a hobby.) I wasn't going to give Trail of Dead even my
undivided attention. They were going to have the back part of
my brain while I at least enjoyed insulting Mets fans. That
would have to do for them. They were lucky to get that.
And then a funny thing happened. On my way to a scathing review,
Invocation starts lilting out of my laptop, a sample
of radio static FM bandwidth surf a la Pink Floyd's Wish
You Were Here, undercut and overlaid with a delicate piano
and keyboard melody that would fit perfectly as an intro to
Archers Of Loaf's Chumming the Ocean. Invocation
slips seamlessly into It Was There That I Saw You, which
quickly builds into the noise front that I was expecting from
the start, but a sonic assault of much greater subtly and complexity
than anything I had envisioned. And still there were those lulls
of intransigent keys and those snippets of coded static loops.
It took me three songs to realize that I had completely ignored
my USENET aspirations for the day and was simply sitting and
listening to the album. Just listening. Wrapped up in music
coming from an album, made by a band, that I was already predisposed
to discard as so much refuse. Just listening, intently, with
no desire to do anything else.
It wasn't until Another Morning Stoner had morphed its
way into Baudelaire that the Archers of Loaf comparisons
became conscious. And that was some sort of turning point, I
think. Here I was, hardly four songs into the thing and my predispositions
and biases had been unchangeably altered, warped from my previous
views so thoroughly that I was now openly comparing Source
Tags and Codes to one of my favorite bands of all time.
I rebuilt my server so I could burn the CD for easy transportation.
Eventually I went and bought a proper copy (because we try to
support our starving artists when we can, ya know). I've been
listening to it pretty continuously for a month or so now. And
that's what I'm going to tell you about the album. You can draw
your own conclusions.
Is Source Tags and Codes a perfect album?
Probably not. There are a couple of points I could make to take
it down from the highest of firmaments, if I wanted to, but
I can't see a point in doing it. And while it may not be perfect
(and really, that's a decision only an individual listener could
ever make about an album) it is truly, truly good. Great, even,
in such that it can take the most biased of ears and turn them,
in half a listen, into ardent fans. If you were ever a fan of
Archers of Loaf, I strongly suggest you find a copy of Source
Tags and Codes, because it seems to me that Trail of
Dead have officially taken up the gauntlet that the Archers
left lying on a North Carolinian stage back in 1998. And man,
that's a good thing in my world.
I'm giving Source Tags and Codes 6 sponges, which
pretty good, but not perfect. It is quite good, and I can admit
wholeheartedly when I was wrong.