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Album Review

On the surface, The Century of Self is more than a little similar to ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's previous two albums, Worlds Apart and So Divided: The songs' sounds and scopes are of epic proportions, and just as high concept as the band's previous work, if not more so — the album takes its name from an acclaimed BBC documentary, and war and religion are just some of the heady topics it tackles. However, The Century of Self sounds liberated where Worlds Apart and So Divided often seemed labored. This is no coincidence. The Century of Self is the Trail of Dead's first album for their own Richter Scale label after a troubled stint on Interscope, and the first album the band has recorded without a click track since their breakthrough Source Tags & Codes. The Festival Thyme EP hinted that this album would be ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's freest, most fiery work in some time, and two of its songs reappear here. "Bells of Creation," with its striding, pounding piano and well-placed power chords, feels like a spiritual cousin to the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me," while "Inland Sea" underscores how organic and graceful the band's interplay is when it's not shackled to a click track. Most excitingly for longtime fans, the Trail of Dead's punk roots show up just as loud and proud as their prog rock ambitions — the excellent "Ascending" has the dual vocal attack, guitar onslaughts, and smart passion that Source Tags & Codes had in spades. Meanwhile, "Isis Unveiled" blends that sound with Celtic-tinged strings (a book written by singer/guitarist Conrad Keely's Irish Nationalist grandfather was a major influence on the album), and "Far Pavilions" is a perfect example of the band's flair for giving raw-sounding songs titles that should be graced with Roger Dean artwork. As much of a return to form as The Century of Self is, it still falls prey to some of the pitfalls that bogged down So Divided and Worlds Apart. The Trail of Dead still aren't big on nuance: "Giants Causeway" opens The Century of Self at a fevered pitch that continues until "Luna Park" begins the album with a string of ballads that, when taken together, feel nearly as exhausting as the first half's wall-to-wall rockers. The interlude "An August Theme" and "Insatiable (One)" and "Insatiable (Two)" feel fussy and overly theatrical in comparison to the more powerful songs that surround them, and on songs like "Pictures of an Only Child," emotions get hidden behind gargantuan arrangements and dynamic shifts. Nevertheless, this album offers the Trail of Dead's best balance of heart-on-sleeve outbursts and orchestrated bombast in some time, and it's the band's most cohesive, satisfying music since Source Tags & Codes. As they sing on "Luna Park," "in order to live, it's gotta be free," and The Century of Self is compelling proof that the only way a band as fiercely ambitious, righteous, and single-minded as ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead can do things is on their own.

Biography

Formed: 1994 in Austin, TX

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

An unlikely but powerful combination of punk fury and prog rock ambition, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead were formed in late 1994 by singers/guitarists/drummers Jason Reece and Conrad Keely. The longtime friends originally met in Hawaii before settling in the indie hotbed of Olympia, Washington, where Reece drummed for the notorious Mukilteo Fairies. After relocating together to Austin, Texas, the duo began playing shows as "You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead," eventually adding...
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The Century of Self, ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
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