The Secret of Elena's Tomb is surely not what many of today's
fans of ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead were betting on as
a follow-up to last year's deservedly acclaimed Source Tags &
Codes. A close listen, however, reveals subtle messages
throughout this EP's five seemingly divergent songs.
The first track, "Mach Schau," which literally means "make a show,"
and is what Beatles fans used to chant when the band would take the
stage during their formative years in Hamburg, serves as an
interesting introduction to the EP. It does, after all, embody what
has come to be understood as standard Trail of Dead. Yes, it's good.
Yes, it's breakneck rock. There are classic punk-rock overtones. It's
energetic and soaring and truly great. But there's a notable
undercurrent of cynicism that bubbles up toward the end of the song,
in Conrad Keely's chants of "rock show, mach Schau, rock show, mach
Schau." Is it that just making a rock show isn't enough anymore?
Possibly. Maybe it's an initial casting-off of what we've been
conditioned to want from Trail of Dead's music, along with the
affirmation of an unspoken hope that they're going to take us
someplace different this time around.
And right away they make good on the promise, in the roaring,
rumbling "All Saints Day." It's a confessional tune, sliding and
swerving among all the lies people tell each other and people tell
themselves, eventually imploring all of us that we "can't hide
forever." Jason Reece's self-reflective lyrics imply that it goes as
much for them as it does for us. All that, and it's one of the band's
best songs to date.
The third song of the cycle, the elegant "Crowning of a Heart," is
slowed-down, melodically awesome, and mellow. Yes: mellow. Delicate
guitar lines, subtly changing, intermingling. It's blissed-out,
practically. This is a sound that hasn't been heard from the band
since "When We Begin to Steal" from the band's first album. It's an
extremely well crafted song: simple at its core, yet impressive in
its impact. Which are, after all, distinct elements of Trail of
Dead's music. A different take on their more visible style, but still
very much them.
The fourth track, "Counting off the Days," continues the keyed-down
mood. It's a plaintive ballad that's simultaneously calming and
jarring. This song, over all the others, is a true surprise. It's
beautiful, surely, with little more than acoustic guitar, bagpipes,
and Keely's single-verse lyric. But, wait: acoustic guitar? Yep.
Ballad? Oh, yes. Bagpipes? I think so. It may be a harmonium. Either
way, it's uncompromisingly lovely.
The EP's final song, "Intelligence," is not even technically Trail of
Dead, but actually Jason Reece's side-project with Tyler Jacobson, A
Roman Scandal. It's electro-pop/clash/rock. It's infectious, it's
live bass, it's neworderdeathdisco. It's another of the many faces of
Trail of Dead. Borrowing lyrics from The Ramones' "Sheena Is a Punk
Rocker" and a few basslines from Duran Duran, this is (again) another
side of Trail of Dead that will blindside all but the most obsessive
An interesting development: Upon first popping the CD into the
computer to rip MP3s, I discovered that the EP also includes videos
for "Another Morning Stoner," the band-directed "Relative Ways"
(which is an incredible visual journey), and a live version of "All
Saints Day" (shot at Emo's in Austin). Upon further examination,
however, it's possible that these videos aren't just tagged on for
bonus material. Instead, these videos are really part of the
EP. Which places the EP's offerings in an altogether different
Because, as a whole, The Secret of Elena's Tomb is a
compendium of many of the things Trail of Dead have been to date:
provocative lyricists, well-honed musicians, and now film directors.
It's a sure message to everyone that they've got more sides to them
than a lot of listeners and critics probably previously thought.
That, first and foremost, they are creators, whatever their chosen
Which is why releasing this collection now, following the
high-profile success of Source Tags..., is such a fine
and bold move. They refuse to be pigeonholed, despite whatever
commercial rewards they might receive were they to simply release a
quick four songs to satiate the public's narrow-sighted need for
Instead, Trail of Dead did what they wanted to do which is the
heart, really, of what they've always done and that challenges
us to lose our preconceptions of what music and art should be
and simply let loose to revel in the amazing things that are
happening right in front of us.