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  Sources Tags and Codes  
  ... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead  
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It is only fair to state up front what biases I carried into this album.

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 been silly.

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.

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