Trail of Dead trade classic for epic on "Worlds Apart"
To all outward appearances, "Worlds Apart," the fourth release for indie punk-rockers …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and second on major label Interscope, is vintage Trail of Dead material. The CD case and lyrics booklet are covered in singer Conrad Keely's scrawled calligraphy and eerie artwork. Despite its backing choir, the first track, "Ode to Isis," sounds fairly typical of the Austin, Texas rockers, who like throwing instrumental interludes around like some miniature version of Explosions in the Sky. The song even ends with the muttered "And you will know us by the trail of dead" that marked the beginning of the band's 2000 masterpiece, "Madonna."
But it soon becomes clear that we aren't listening to "Madonna" or even "Source Tags and Codes" (the 2002 follow-up on Interscope), take two. After "Will You Smile Again?" intros with a riff of spastic and chugging nature, it mellows out considerably, fading to a pounding bass drum line while Keely keens "Remember all the bad dreams/Are not far from reality/Will you write again for me?" with an appreciable amount of restraint, before the song slowly builds up on him in the background and re-explodes in impressive fashion. This epic feel is one of the easily distinguishable differences between "Worlds" and the band's other releases, and in this sense "Worlds" is almost a concept album; the concept, it would seem, is to be as different from themselves as is creatively workable.
The title track displays another aspect of the new Trail of Dead: open-faced, ironical bitterness. The track features cynical jabs ("Look boys and girls/Here's BBC/See corpses rapes and amputees/What do you think now of your American dream?") by a spitting Keely, while the guitars flounce about catchily in the background and the drummer goes nuts. The irony of the absurdly happy tune and the acerbity of the vocals is not lost easily, but just to make sure no unwitting DJ ever spins the track, Keely riddles the track with enough salty language to clog an artery.
The rest of the disc is a mix of eclecticity, bound loosely by the above-mentioned themes. "The Summer of '91" starts off prettily, with a heavy dose of piano, then slowly escalates into a solid and crunching anthem of times passed by. Keely musters his most thought provoking lyric as a result; "And though it makes no sense/I know there are no accidents". "Let it Dive" is driving and understated, sporting a chord progression that frustratingly never seems to go exactly where the listener is expecting. "All White," the record's last truly great track (sliding in at track ten), sounds like, of all things, The Beatles: Keely's usually forced vocals sound creepily similar to those of the late and great Lennon, and the soaring choir parts, arching piano-guitar-horns combo, and simplistic, hippie-era drumming reek of nostalgia.
All albums have weak tracks, and the skippable ones on "Worlds" include the stutteringly pretentious "Classic Arts Showcase," the plain, repetitive sing-a-long "The Rest will Follow," and the quasi-outro, "The Lost City of Refuge." These tracks don't stray as far as filler material might, but are a clear cut below the rest.
But the best track on the CD, the one that makes me think that everything is going to be all right in the world of the Trail of Dead, is smack dab in the middle of "Worlds Apart," sliding in at track six. The title of this track is "Caterwaul," for which Keely scores immediate bonus points (a caterwaul, for those staring blankly at their screens, is a loud, harsh, or otherwise unpleasant screech). The song begins with some ambient bleeps and blips, a few stray guitar notes and then launches full tilt into the song's blistering, repetitive riff. Like on "Let it Dive," "Caterwaul"'s guitar part never progresses as smoothly as the listener is expecting, and the effect is at first jarring and from then on fascinating. At the midpoint, the borderline-screaming lyrics die down and a beautiful piano bit picks up, followed by the most awe-inspiring build-up-to-breakdown in years.
"Worlds Apart" is not "Source Tags and Codes." It is not "Madonna." For this, fans should be truly grateful. Because they already wrote, recorded, and produced those albums. "Worlds Apart" is a masterpiece in its own unique right, and no one should want it any other way.
Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »