Music

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: So Divided

The band with the awkward name and the killer back-catalogue's looking towards stadiums -- bigger, grander, more melodic.


...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

So Divided

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2006-11-14
UK Release Date: 2006-11-13
Amazon
iTunes

This is basically how you'd expect this review to go: 1. How brilliant was Source Tags & Codes, d'you remember that? 2. How shit was Worlds Apart, d'you remember that? 3. So Divided is somewhere in between -- something less than the bluster and chaos of the group's major label debut, something more than the follow-up's misguided pretension.

The trouble with Trail of Dead is one of expectation. For long-time fans of the Austin group's ragged past there may be no returning to Source Tags' peak. How could they, when last year's album signaled the group actually valued conventional formulae -- riffs, choruses, crescendos? It was never reasonable to expect a return. But for those turned onto the group's sound by "Summer of '91" or "Worlds Apart", a less exacting audience perhaps, the route to approval is paved with hook after hook; no-one's asking for more.

By either measure, it's not that Trail of Dead fails on So Divided, it's more that they just don't quite give enough. Big-sounding, straight-up American rock is one thing, but pretensions to grandeur without the, well, balls will always be ripe for cutting down. There's a larger problem, too: taking away the brief "Intro: A Song of Fire and Wind", which thematically sets up the second track, and "Segue: In the Realms of the Unreal", which doesn't do much of anything, there are only nine songs here. And even though many are over five minutes in length, the disc feels oddly empty. Conrad Keely and Jason Reece's continued theme is wounded artistic pride, and its effect on subsequent artistry. When Keely screams, top-point, "Call it a stasis/ Feel like I've wasted all this time", you can feel his wounded pride. But whinging about the fact people were disappointed with Worlds Apart is not going to bring them back.

Still, the best tracks on So Divided show a band that can pen a real indie rock song, and one that brings a measure of innovation to the arena-rock genre. "Wasted State of Mind" effectively combines Muse's grandeur with early Bright Eyes' art-tinged folk rock: say what you want about the rest of the album, but when Keely reaches the chorus of this song, the blossoming glory is undeniable. The songwriting works here, pairing a slow melodic line with pattering, hyperactive percussion. Elsewhere, on the oft-mentioned "Cold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory",

The song's originally by Guided By Voices, and though Keely has said the band recorded the song to improve on the original, it is undeniably grand, building from piano-voice simplicity to a lush orchestral climax in (surprise, for Trail of Dead) less than three minutes.

Unfortunately, these are surrounded by a number of songs that attempt a power that feels artificially manufactured. "Naked Sun" starts straight heavy-metal blues and never pulls out of the Metallica-lined rut; "So Divided" tacks an orchestral crescendo to a straightforward rock 'n' roll song, bloating it interminably; and "Eight Day Hell" actually sounds like an aborted Shins tune, with the same upbeat stomp as "Mine's Not a High Horse" and the lilting, falling melodies signature to that band.

So Divided opens with a patriotic swell intended ironically; a handful of claps bursts into whooping applause and the album's signature driving guitars, as if to say both our power and our melody overcome institution. But Trail of Dead's indignation barely smolders across the album. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead has become art rock's Green Day, a difficult proposition for critics because they are still appealing, even if they've lost their early fire. Without it, the band never rises above competence.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image