Decade :: Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Codes (2002)

What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?

Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Since the beginning of October, Monday through Friday, we have been featuring posts detailing our favorite albums of the decade. Now with less than two weeks left in the last year of the first decade of the new millennium we are ramping up--highlighting our absolute favorites.

Nothing can stop me in my tracks faster than the phrase “change your life.”   Maybe I’m just stubborn, stuck in whatever form I was made in--or re-made in--but my skin crawls every time a book, a record, a film is supposed to change my life, or any time I hear someone close to me say that some work of art has changed their life.

I’d like to think that I’m just being fair to the work, whatever it is.   It’s quite a bit of pressure to put on something, after all--to assume, before you’ve even heard the group, that the unfurling of a few notes of music are going to mark the pre- and post- in your biography.   With those expectations, it’s almost impossible to hear -- or read, or see -- anything the way you were supposed to.

“Moments can be monuments to you,” David Berman sang in the Silver Jews song “People”, before conceding, “If your life is interesting, true.”   Indie rock has always been about deflating the thoughts of those who would tell you that every moment has to matter, that tiny things are more important than they seem to be.   Way over yonder in the more emo camp, you’ll hear that every single moment matters so much--”shouting the poetic truths of high-school journal keepers”, as Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo once said.   The real truth, though, probably lies somewhere in the middle of these two places, some place where the quotidian can be both nothing and everything, where big moments are actually made up of tons of smaller moments.

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s magnum opus, 2002’s Source Tags and Codes, falls right into that fertile country: somewhere between Sonic Youth’s squall, Pavement’s squiggling, and Refused’s new noise, all of it built into a Babel of feedback and tied together with the strings of a violin.   It’s emotional without being maudlin, honest without being trite, loud without being dumb--and even if Trail of Dead couldn’t capture it again on subsequent releases, well, neither could anyone else.

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