...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
w/the (International) Noise Conspiracy, We Are Wolves
Sat May 21, Showbox, 6:30 pm, $14/$16, all ages.

It's not that 2000 kicked off some kind of new century of art rock. Long before RISD punks were producing cut-and-tape costumes and hardcore acts were sliding glockenspiels into their practice spaces, rock bands had been blatantly ignoring three- and four-chord structures in favor of something much grander in scope. As basement-recording enthusiasts strip music down to the butcher's scraps on one end, their counterparts are finding ways to make records more bombastic and operatic on the other.

Locally, recent years saw the rise (and, sadly, fall) of prog-friendly acts like Cobra High, as well as the gradual overhaul of the Blood Brothers to a hardcore band fueling their fierce funeral pyre with increasingly experimental methods of melody making. On the national radar, the Basquiat Pack also includes dub/Latin-rhythmed rockers the Mars Volta and ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Austin's agents provocateur who went from notoriously destroying their equipment to traveling with 20 guitars. "Every song we have is in a totally different tuning from the next, and so every guitar has a purpose for that song," explains Trail of Dead's Jason Reece of their numerous instruments. "When we first started, we were discussing how to make guitar music stand out, and if you tune a guitar a certain way, you can really get original sounds."

Trail of Dead have always channeled artistic energy through new portals. So even if they still give the drum kits a good tackle at the end of the night, they've uncoiled the ravenous energy on their earlier releases and fed it to a much larger beast, one that includes two percussionists and a blossoming cast working around main songwriters Reece, Conrad Keely, and Kevin Allen.

Trail of Dead's latest release, Worlds Apart, opens with "Ode to Isis," which tiptoes on staccato piano keys and adds an ominous Exorcist-like choir that could soundtrack stormy heavens at the opening of a classic horror-movie montage. From there, the band trade one form of drama for another, clearing out the black cloaks for "Will You Smile Again for Me," a song that immediately opens up into one of their trademark sonorous instrumentals. Over the course of World's dozen songs, Trail of Dead counterbalance every act of aggression with an act of melodic beauty; even as the band spear the "cunts on MTV" on the title track, the song is bookended by cheering kids and chirping birds. "With this album, we were listening to a lot of soundtracks," says Reece, citing the epic qualities of Jet Li's Hero and Conan the Barbarian as particularly coloring their songwriting.

Even the liner notes hint at more ornate arrangements than your average rock band. Backing vocalists are specifically listed as altos, tenors, and sopranos; two conductors are given credit for their contributions; and violins, violas, and cellos join the standard lineup of stringed instruments. Reece is especially enthusiastic about the inclusion of virtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn on "To Russia My Homeland." "We are really getting into different forms of music," he explains. "We've always wanted to expand and experiment with other genres. Right now we're talking about working with horns; we've been listening to a lot of Fela Kuti and African music."

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From Worlds Apart's baroque CD art to the songs inside, Trail of Dead show once again that little is left understated about the band. They approach their compositions like rock symphonies-only with a pop edge, something found more often in the softer folds of Worlds than in their previous releases. So while you may skim the band's pretentious bio, you don't need a doctorate in music comprehension to soar on with the proclamations of "Things couldn't be better/they are the best"-which are the facetious lyrics of "The Best," a song about the fall of Michael Jackson.

But such is the case with Trail of Dead, a band whose worst nightmare would be to wallow in the status quo. "We've always tried to provoke some sort of conversation or meaning, but it's also all in the name of fun," says Reece. "We tend to sometimes be overly pretentious, but at the same time, why not throw it out there and see what happens? If it annoys the fuck out of someone at least it got a reaction. It's better than being middle of the road with nothing to say." ■

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