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Record Review


Toward the beginning of High Fidelity, John Cusack sits cleaning a 45 and casually breaking the fourth wall with his not-so-revelatory theory that there are certain things some people just never get over. For him, it was girls. In other hands -- those of, say, ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead -- that monologue is transformed into a lament over a weakness for late-'80s indie rock. That decade's guitar-driven footprints are all over the band's fourth and newest release, Source Tags and Codes, its major-label debut.

Not that that's a bad thing. Because the indie rock we're talking about is Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, with elements of My Bloody Valentine and a half-dozen other thoroughly decent bands thrown in. So you can be happy that they turned deaf to the siren song of Ned's Atomic Dustbin.

Source Tags and Codes is getting near-Strokes-level publicity from Interscope, and it does sound better than their other albums, but that probably has more to do with a major-label budget than any great leap forward in execution a la Radiohead's evolution from the The Bends to OK Computer.

So don't believe the hype.

But that's not to say that there aren't moments that hint at the Texas-based Trail of Dead's potential. The album begins promisingly with "It Was There That I Saw You," which wouldn't be a bad fit for Loveless if the guitars were just a little bigger and the vocals buried under another layer of sound. Which might be the best treatment for any Trail of Dead album, because the vocals on Source Tags and Codes aren't particularly distinctive. The biggest misstep comes when the band opts for its own tepid version of hardcore on "Homage," complete with sludgy spoken-word chorus.

The band follows that disappointment with "How Near, How Far," one of the album's standout tracks. After a meditative opening, the song bursts into syncopated drums before chilling out again with the subtle sound of strings, which then gives way to the signature rhythm. It's these moments that make the album worth checking out to get a taste of what the band sounds like before seeing one of its famously chaotic live shows. -- KEVIN GRIFFIS

... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead plays the Cotton Club Tues., March 5.

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