I am a person with a fairly short attention span. So if a full lengh cd doesn’t capture me somehow in the first two or three songs it is going to be hard for the rest of it to do anything for me. With some of my favorite cds I know the first 5 songs, but after that they can be a mystery. So it would seem that the concept of an EP cd would be a good thing. “EP” is short for “Extended Play”. EPs usually have anywhere from 3-6 songs. So it is too long to be a single and too short to be a full lengh cd. EPs usually sell for a nice price (it’s easier to justify spending $7 on 5 songs than $18 on 11) and have extra surprises.
Unfortunately, bands/labels can view an EP as an easy way to make money with little effort actually put into the EP. If a band hasn’t released anything for a while, but the fans are demanding some kind of output, then a label can slap together and EP to quiet the masses for a few months. With a mix of live songs and a remix or two and maybe a new studio song a label and quickly start bringing in some cash again. For instance, with the Thursday EP that was released a few months ago, it had several live songs and then one new studio song. It was hardly worth the money needed to print it. Other bands like to put silly songs or half-assed songs that didn’t make the previous full lengh (for good reason, usually).
So, in a nutshell, I am not fond of those kind of EPs. Thankfully, there comes a rare band who actually does a worthwhile EP. One of 2002’s breakthrough sensations was “and you will know us by the Trail Of Dead” (that mouthful is usually shortened to the much easier “Trail of Dead”). Their cd, “Source Tags & Codes”, awed indie fans and critics alike with it’s orchestrated indie rock.
The question becomes how to follow a critically acclaimed cd? Well, for Trail of Dead, they put out “The Secret of Elena’s Tomb”, an EP with 5 songs plus enhanced material for the computer. I will admit that I was one of the few indie rock fans who did not swoon over their full length effort. It was nice, but didn’t scream of origionality and the songs tended to sound the same. So I approached this EP with trepidation. I picked it up for just over $5 (after a 30% discount because the store was going out of business) and hoped for the best.
The first thing I noticed while inspecting the cd was that it actually came with a fold-out cd booklet instead of just one sheet with or without a fold (as is more common for EPs). The next thing of note was that the artwork is high quality. Color photos graced the back of the insert sheet while duo-tone drawings lit up the panels that fold out. It is rare that a good full length cd gets art this good, let alone an EP. And, gasp, are those lyrics in the liner notes?
That is all fine and dandy, but what is a good package without good music? I put in the cd, hoping for the life of me that this wasn’t “Source Tags & Codes Part 2”. From the first song I could tell it wasn’t. What we have here are 5 high quality songs that don’t just copy from “Source Tags & Codes”, but take it farther. These songs show a lot of growth for the band.
The worst track is actually the first one. The music minus the vocals would be fine, but somehow the vocals don’t quite fit with the song and seem disjointed. But the rest of the songs work well. Cellos and horns give songs depth, especially track 4. Track four starts off as an acoustic guitar and voice, and then submits to a drone of other instruments. I assume from the liner notes, cellos and some kind of horns.
Track five is also really good, relying on a techno track underneath the instrumentation to drive it. It finishes off the cd on an upbeat note. I was left breathless and awed. Now, instead of Trail Of Dead just being a band I dismiss as “the same ol’ same ol'” I have respect for them and the songs they write. I anxiously await a full length from them now.
But that’s not all. The enhanced material for the computer is also top-notch. While too many enhanced cds only contain weblinks and a few photos, this is heads above those. In addition to the required weblink, it’s also got a gallery of sketches, all high quality. Conrad Keely, a member of the band, is an artist and does all of their artwork. He is amazing. Then, for those bored with art, there are also 3 videos. One is a live taping of one of the songs off the EP. The other two are music videos (not live) for two songs off the previous full length.
All in all, this is the best EP I have seen. Highly enjoyable. Pick it up if you loved “Source Tags & Codes” or if you want to give it a second chance like I did.
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