Sunday, March 1, 2009

Trail of the Dead - Jon Evans

As a formatting issue, Flying Houses reviews music with the band name first and the album title after the dash, and books with the title first and the author's name after the dash. This is because it just seems like the journalistic standard. That new Franz Ferdinand album might make for a confusing review or the Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified could be the same.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (a.k.a. Trail of the Dead) have put out their newest album last week and a review can be found here and if I were myself from a couple years ago I would probably be taking the long walk down to Reckless Records to buy it, but I digress. Their secret new album is called "Jon Evans" and is coming out later this year, in a move not unlike Radiohead's "Kid A"/"Amnesiac" release schedule. Naming their album after a person is a curious move, but does not come as a total surprise after one of their earlier songs that staked out their reputation, "Mark David Chapman" was similarly-titled, not to mention "Baudelaire."

But "Jon Evans?" Who is Jon Evans? Well, he is a writer. A real living person. "Dark Places" is his first novel. He has written four more. Here is what a short biography on a book site says about him: Jon Evans is the son of an ex-pat Rhodesian father and Canadian mother and was born and raised in Canada. He has travelled extensively all over the world and works as an IT consultant between trips. He currently lives and works in San Francisco.

The Trail of the Dead have created a concept album based around this man's life. Does it come close to Zen Arcade or Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or Cursive's Happy Hollow? Sadly, not. However it is a very original idea that should not be discounted. The first track on the album is about a guy named Paul Wood who goes hiking on the Annapurna Circuit in Malaysia. He and his friend from South Africa are hiking around a mountain and they discover a dead body with Swiss Army knives in his eyes. The man's name is Stanley Goebel which immediately makes me think, Nazi.

But Stanley is actually a fellow Canadian of Paul's (whose name is actually Balthazar) and a pretty good guy on all accounts, and Paul continues home to San Francisco in the second "movement" of the album, titled "California." There he works as an IT Consultant, and soon the economy topples and Paul gets laid off. Conrad Keely must be trying to make a statement about the current state of global society. Now all art will be about desperation, poverty, and human resilience. It works in this case, as Paul uses the opportunity of unemployment to solve the mystery of this murder--because here's the kicker--two years earlier, his girlfriend Laura had been murdered--in the same way! With knives in her eyes!

Probably the best song on the album is "Cookie Monsters" which involves Paul's attempt to track down the killer via posts made to a secret online page where the identity of the murderer is revealed. One of the rules of the game he plays is to only log onto the page at public terminals and then to delete all the browsing history before he leaves--but he forgets to delete the cookie history too! Since Paul is an IT Consultant he knows all of these secret tricks to online pseudo-hacking and eventually hatches a plan to lure the murderer back to Africa, where Laura's murder took place, while recruiting several old friends from the overland trucking trip to Africa that the first murder happened during.

Since Keely & Co. have constructed such an elaborate plot for their album, it is very difficult to discern the majority of the action in the story. Only if you read all of the lyrics from beginning to end will the story come through at all, and even then it seems vague. Just hearing Keely try to sing songs about all of this complicated subject-matter makes for an unforgettable listen.

Finally, Paul stages a dramatic conclusion during the song "The Pillar of Hercules" that ends the story on a happy note. Not to be outdone, Trail of the Dead close out the album with the revelation of Jon Evans--the author of the story about their album about Paul Wood--and how he is a successful mass-market paperback writer that won an award for his debut novel and now finds himself blocked, and so is forced to go back into more IT work than writing. For the originality of the material, Trail of the Dead have released their most essential album since Source Tags & Codes, one that will capture the attention of adventure-seekers and serial killer-hunters and superhero-impersonators everywhere. Their conceit is not to be outdone, and the humor they reveal displays a side of the band that will be totally welcome in indie rock circles everywhere--total disregard for audience expectations and totally random musical ideas. It's weird, but it's usually compelling, though not as good as the greatest concept albums of all time, still an album that should rank in the top 20 of 2009. At the very least, it's a gift for Jon Evans, the real writer, who will no doubt be amused that a pretty popular band has decided to write an album about him. They even make another prescient observation--the only band Paul mentions liking is Prodigy, and Prodigy released their first new album in five years (since Evans wrote "Dark Places," actually) the same day as their other recent album, "The Century of Self." You've got to hand it to them--they definitely don't lack any ambition.


JK said...

Where did you come up with this info? By the way, it's "Trail of Dead"

JK said...

My information arrives from questionable sources. I do dig the Dead though, not the jam band. I know the "the" is omitted in the full name, but in its abbreviated form I always thought the "the" was annexed (as in the first track off Madonna). Thanks for reading!

JK said...

thanks for the response. They're one of my favorite bands and I keep pretty closely attuned to what's going on with them. As much as I'd love for this to be true, I haven't heard anything that would verify this.

Jon said...

Well, I for one found this highly amusing.

JK said...

This is why blogs are the coolest thing in the world! I'm glad it amused you.

Would you be interested in sending "The Beasts of New York" for a proper review? You could be the second author to give me a real assignment.

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon said...

No need for me to send it - it's available free online! (at In fact, er, at the moment, it's only available free online. Publication plans exist, but they keep being postponed.

JK said...

Alright well I definitely have not read a novel on a computer screen before but I will try to give it a shot...I have a few other things on my plate now (Underworld, Fahrenheit 451, LSATs...) but perhaps over the summer I will be able to write about it. Thanks for noticing the blog!