Once upon a time, there was a group of boys from Texas who set out to make a righteous noise. The quartet ran around their native Texas, and then around the country, released two albums to growing critical acclaim, and put on shows that began to border on legendary.
And then, as always happens in these stories, the big, bad major record label came along and snapped them up. Our four boys went into the studio under the tough yoke of their new corporate overlords, saw the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, and released...
...their best album yet. By a sizeable margin.
Source Tags and Codes is phenomenal. It's one of those albums that starts the listener on a seeminlgly unsustainable high note, and uses that as a launching point. It's a distillation of the best songs on the first two albums, brought to a fever pitch, and blended in with new and unexpected influences. These boys started out good, but they're getting dangerous now.
So, what do we have here? There are several songs that represent the best of what the band has done in the past. In my review of the "Relative Ways" single, I noted that song's development of Madonna's "Mark David Chapman". Similarly, "Another Morning Stoner" sees the machine-gun drumming, shrieking lead lines, and full-throated, high vocal lines that are the band's bread and butter coming out for a particularly brilliant tour of duty.
However, the most impressive thing about this album is the way it demonstrates that the band has grown. "Baudelaire" is Trail of T-Rex, with a chorus that wouldn't sound out of place in Ziggy Stardust's mouth. "Heart In The Hand of the Matter" proves that the Daydream Nation comparisons are valid, not only due to that album's influence on this band, but because the Trail of Dead is every bit as capable as Sonic Youth in its prime. Finally, the title track closer is awesome in the Biblical sense of the word, floating in a stately fuzz that descends into a gorgeous string quartet. Yes, a string quartet.
Great bands are supposed to release a major-label debut that sucks, and improve from there (Do The Collapse, anyone?). Trail of Dead have proved that nothing is certain. If you buy this album and hate it, feel free to scream at me. Of course, I won't be able to hear you through the beautiful din of the Trail of Dead on my headphones.