Sunday, October 11, 2009
#83. 'What is forgiveness? It's just a dream'
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead "Another Morning Stoner"
If You Forgot It In People was the first album that Pitchfork boosterism helped to any considerable degree, then ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Source Tags and Codes might have been the first album that their boosterism killed. Tracking the Pitchfork backlash that overtook every facet of hipster culture as the decade wore on will always come back to two things: the ridiculously over the top review for Radiohead's Kid A and the vaunted 10.0 being awarded to Source Tags and Codes a couple of years later. The former works best as an example of the site's divisive review style at its most unrelenting, but the ...Trail of Dead rating is the first time that I recall there being a huge degree of anti-Pitchfork talk right away. I was a semi-frequent poster in the Radiohead forum on Audiogalaxy and in the week or so after that particular event occurred the tone seemed to shift from mild but not full reverence for its point of view to a much more cautious view of what they were doing. It may be ground zero for that faction of messageboard geeks who habitually deride every album held in high regard by the 'fork, and sort of thing casts a pall over the album despite it being very good.
Source Tags and Codes just missed out on being part of the albums list, mostly because its strength is diluted if its listened to whole. The individual songs are all excellent, but when you put them all together they don't come across as the powerhouses they embody out of context. It was the kind of album I loved when I was 16 but kept liking less and less every time I listened to it thereafter. The songs still kick with the sort of vigor only ...Trail of Dead could provide - bombastic to the point of overkill but tied in to a strong enough base that it never goes too far off the rails - but putting too many of them together just serves to make each subsequent addition seem like a lesser entry. It's the rare occasion where the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and when the individual parts are as good as "Another Morning Stoner" it's a bit disappointing to hear the album and come away feeling a bit underwhelmed.
That said, looking specifically at "Another Morning Stoner" you've got one of the best examples of the Trail of Dead formula in full effect. I remember it absolutely flooring me during my first few listens to the album, something about the combination of intensity and melodicism took my breath away on more than one occasion. It's lost some of that over the years, any song from that period of my life never feels as glorious as it did in the haze of teenagerdom, but even the half dozen times I've listened to it while writing this piece some sections still hit just as hard. The last verse, when vocalist Conrad Keely lets his vocals go to that more emotional place, still works wonders, and the coda is just as effective with the call and response between Keely and (guessing here) Neil Busch as the former continually asks 'What is forgiveness?' and the latter alternates between and 'It's just a dream' and 'It's everything'. Sure it makes sense that the two most overtly emotional outbursts of the song are the two parts that still feel as intense as they did 7 years ago, but the rest of the song at least held up even if it doesn't seem quite as mindblowing now.
The one element that I've grown more fond of is the structure of the whole thing. As you've garnered from the 67 entries before this, I'm a big fan of songs that forego the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, and while this isn't exactly freeform by any stretch it's also a ways removed from a normal single's structure. The chorus isn't a vocal hook but a repeated guitar figure, the verses are the heavier sections and the real power of the song comes in the coda. It's not the way a pop-adjacent strong is constructed, yet it's undeniably catchy and more memorable than 90% of the actual modern rock hits the decade graced us with. I think I big part of that is the way that the structure emphasizes the most emotional sections by putting them on either side of the calmer than normal bridge section, the contrast amplifying their increased power even more than usual. It's not groundbreaking structure, but it fucking works and that's all that really matters here.
Coming up tomorrow: The shape of rock to come (I wish at least).