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Date Released: October 19, 1999
- And You Will Know Them...
- Mistakes & Regrets
- Totally Natural
- Blight Takes All
- Clair de Lune
- Flood of Red
- Children of the Hydra's Teeth
- Mark David Chapman
- Up from Redemption
- Aged Dolls
- The Day the Air Turned Blue
- A Perfect Teenhood
- Sigh Your Children
When they left the Trance label for the renowned North Carolina-based Merge in 1999, ...Trail of Dead were already on their way to bigger and better things. At break-neck pace, they produced the stunning end-of-millennium Madonna, an album that solidified them as the Sonic Youth to fellow Texans At the Drive-In's Fugazi. We'd learn later it was all in preparation for their critical zenith, Source Tags & Codes, and then their commercial one, Worlds Apart, but for what it is, Madonna is a major achievement.
What makes it so? The spoken-chant intro (of which only their debut does not have a rendition; Source Tags & Codes cleverly omits Invocation for all releases but the Japanese version) segues into the triumphant single Mistakes & Regrets, a blistering number with a whispered verse Jason Reece utilized all the better to make his louds seem louder. Totally Natural is a humorous, self-aware observation of the kids that go nuts at their shows, another single and a raucous recording that, much like the rest of their inventory, never truly captures their live show in proper. The most illuminated moment of the album is revealed two tracks later though, when the epic Blight Takes All finishes on a round of crickets (perhaps Incubus heard frogs instead for Aqueous Transmission...?) which leads into the beautifully fractioned guitar line of Clair de Lune. There is nothing more explosively dynamic on the album. Tinkling pianos, softly-militant percussion, and undulating guitars build to a crescendo when Conrad Keely screams with all his heart, "And I know" as the others hum "What good are promises, if nobody honors them?" It is an enlighteningly tortured rock-moment experience, and when it's over, the way is paved for the remaining eight tracks, highlighted by the unrelenting A Perfect Teenhood, maybe the most juvenile, furious rock song the band has ever produced. What makes it better is the instrumental piano ballad The Day the Air Turned Blue that precedes it.
In fact, that is the crux of ...Trail of Dead's success: Despite their either full-on screaming or full-off mumbling, the music is so incredibly dynamic that, at this stage of their career, they could get away without noticeable vocal melodies. Source Tags & Codes may have been their great Statement, but it was Madonna that really made it all possible. - Patrick Masterson