And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
Worlds Apart


n album that succeeds a career-defining record often falls prey to one of the following two criticisms: 1) the new album ventures too far from the compositional techniques and achieved sound that was definitive of its older sibling’s success and is, consequently, frowned upon for not sticking with the tools that built the band’s reputation, or 2) a band cleaves to and re-utilizes a musical vibe that its successor already mastered and, thus, the band is criticized for its failure to evolve.

This duality of follow-up criticisms—either chastising bands for their undesired metamorphoses or for their failure to fulfill an expected metamorphosis—leads one to believe that, in general, a follow-up album is unjustly picked on and would receive a fairer critique if digested as a separate entity. Take the Liars’ We Were Wrong So We Drowned: would their distancing from dance-punk have been frowned upon if they hadn’t already created their own take on the temporary genre? At the opposite end of the spectrum, would the Strokes have been abused by some for creating another set of eleven catchy pop songs if they had not done so two years earlier? Sadly, the heir to a great album is often damned, no matter which direction it heads

Thus, Worlds Apart creates a massive temptation for the music journalist to lump Trail of Dead into one of these two archetypes. It captures Trail of Dead in the midst of a drastic production and compositional shift, as the band incorporates a healthy dose of orchestral accompaniments, “Great Gig In the Sky”-sounding backup female vocals, and acoustic piano figures into their predominantly guitar-driven formula that was used and universally loved in Source Tags and Codes. It would be quite easy to blame all the flaws within Worlds Apart on the these attempted displays of musical ‘maturation’—and the truth be told, the album is far from perfect—but it is not Trail of Dead’s new sound that cripples the LP.

The tracks that do dip into new musical waters—not necessarily uncharted by modern music but not yet explored specifically by Trail of Dead- are the better executed, more laudable sections of the album. “Overture” introduces the band’s many new facets, beginning with a syncopated, low-octave piano riff before climaxing into what my roommate understandably mistook as a classical piece from an epic blockbuster adventure (“are you listening to The Patriot soundtrack?”). Other songs, such as the piano-driven “Summer of ’91,” which favorably recalls Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” the multiple movements of “Will You Smile Again,” and the closer, “City of Refuge,” a jazzy, upbeat number fully equipped with electric piano and “I am the Walrus” string sweeps, are quite removed from past Trail of Dead, yet are well-played and produced, and, most importantly, enjoyable.

It’s the tracks that sit closest to the old Trail of Dead that make up a majority of Worlds Apart’s uninspiring moments and also ruin any cohesion that could have otherwise been attained through the heart of the album. While Trail of Dead has always appeared to be a musical force that could, someday, bridge indie (post-)punk and mall pop-punk, leading single “Worlds Apart,” “Classic Art Showcase,” and, to a lesser extent, “Rest Will Follow” abandon any common ground and cross over to the dark side of modern radio punk. In these tracks, Conrad Keely ignores his subdued vocal delivery, often opting for straining, sometimes whiny melodies that have only a degree of separation from those other corporate label (literal) punks who, in the past two years, decided avant-garde black attire is the new Jinco-Hurley t-shirt tandem.

The amazing guitar acrobatics that spanned much of Trail of Dead’s previous material are also sorely missed. Whereas before, Reese and Keely’s chiseled guitar dueling sounded like Lee Ranaldo’s take on Tom Verlaine licks, much of the guitar work in Worlds Apart is replaced by undefined, Turbo Rat-overdriven sludge. Perhaps, the emphasis on guitar prowess was displaced by the additional focus on wall-of-sound production which—although often nicely executed in some songs (“Overture” and “Summer of ‘91”)— also, unfortunately, includes gimmicky overdubs of a wailing women and Keely cussing out laughing children.

But despite the overall disappointment of the album, fans of the ‘Dead ought not be alarmed. The Austin, Texans have been on an upward climb since their debut and there’s no reason to believe Worlds Apart isn’t merely the awkward adolescent of their musical lives. They seem tired of running solely in post-punk tennis shoes and are trying now trying on a pair of progressive penny loafers on for size. In the next couple years, it is safe to say Trail of Dead will continue to work hard, strive for new ideas, and, hopefully, hone in on a sound that will add another amazing album to their impressive catalogue. This one isn’t it.

Reviewed by: Kyle McConaghy

Reviewed on: 2005-01-26

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Posted 01/26/2005 - 09:25:50 AM by phuett:
 Is it in anybody's opinion that, while it most certainly isn't as good as Source Tags & Codes, the album is enjoyable? I don't know...I don't think it's amazing, but i think i would give it like a 7.5 or something after numerous listens.
Posted 01/26/2005 - 10:20:03 AM by hometapes: actually got a little bit worse for me over repeated listens...i'd say maybe a 5.5 or 6, because I enjoy "Will You Smile Again For Me" a bit...but the album never really feels explosive or exciting; nothing comes close to a "mistakes & regrets"..."All White" might be a cover of a Rooney throwaway...and i think a lot of the album just sounds like a half-ass Cursive (not good)...his vocals don't even come close to holding the intensity of Tim Kasher's....dunno...i wanted to love it after i saw their continued commitment to atrocious packaging, but it just didn't work out. maybe next time?
Posted 01/26/2005 - 10:59:49 AM by GlassAnimalBoy:
 I'm inclined to agree with phuett. The album is spotty, I mean there are only three songs on World Apart that I really love (and one of them is the violin interlude (but why isn't anyone talking up "The Best???")) but even where the songs aren't breathtaking, most of them are still very good. There are some really embarrassing moments, but compared to the number of sonic risks the Trail of Dead takes on the album, I would say a majority of them work out for the best. I give the album a thumbs-up.
Posted 01/26/2005 - 01:00:01 PM by brente:
 just like in school, a 'c-' is not to say "i don't love you anymore," but rather "i expect better from you." if we don't acknowledge mediocrity when it happens, the band might think it's ok to keep putting it out.
Posted 01/26/2005 - 03:52:48 PM by Damn-Iron:
 Hmmm. I'd give it more b+, A-, but it's hard to be objective, as the lyrics really work at me. They've matured/been more damaged by the world, but they are pretty spot on; way more incisive than U2 or Eminem's attempts at sociopolitical commentary. Particularly the first 3, and "And the Rest Will Follow". Don't know your references, hometapes, but I think "All White" is to Ziggy Stardust as T2 was to Terminator. Not better, but sleeker and updated. The album lacks some zing, and "The Best" encapsulates the reasons, for me. Here they're lyrically riffing on Voltaire, but they were just more fun Shredding away on "Baudelaire".
Posted 01/26/2005 - 04:07:13 PM by mikell:
 agree with the fact that it got worse on repeated listening...also agree with moments of embarrassment(they really need to work on picking out some more tasteful samples...doesnt that sound like frodo crying out for gandalf at the end of "the best"?).
Posted 01/27/2005 - 12:51:25 AM by phuett:
 I think one reason it isn't as good as ST&C; is definetly because it is not nearly as cohesive; the transitions on ST&C; were nearly perfect, and this album features very different songs that are attempted to be strung together by half-assed transitions. I think this is the major crime, and less the songwriting. I personally think that if you take the songs in their individual forms that they are quite excellent tunes (yes "The Best" is one of my favorites). Also, did anybody see their performance of "Rest Will Follow" on Letterman? I highly recommend checking it out as my friends and I thought it was fucking awesome.
Posted 01/27/2005 - 12:56:19 AM by phuett:
 Oh, and I completely agree brente...I do think that they could have put together a better album if perhaps they would have re-thought some of their concepts. It sounds like they had a bold new idea (for them) and decided to fully commit to that and, in doing so, not only broke away from what made them amazing to begin with, but also lacked the maturity of a work that has seen multiple reincarnations.
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