Saddled with enormous pressure from fans, their record label, Interscope, and a music press ready to proclaim them the newest kings of Southern angst-prog rock, the Austin-Texas based agglomeration of rockers, …and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, have released a veritable grab bag of musical ideas that alternate from a blissful blend of passion and inspiration to cacophonous dreck.
Point of order: the Trail of Dead can only be described as an agglomeration because, while during their “Madonna” days they flirted with outside musicians, Worlds Apart is entirely dependent on them. While frontman/guitarist/artwork designer Conrad Keely, drummer/vocalist Jason Reece and guitarist/keys player Kevin Allen still form the nucleus, the Trail of Dead have now incorporated a thirteen-member choir, a seven-piece string section, a second drummer (Doni Schroader), an additional percussionist and a solo from violinist Hilary Hahn. The results are mixed only in that the Trail of Dead may have become too ambitious even for their own good. On tracks such as “Ode to Isis,” with its thundering piano and chanting choir, and the dance-recitalesque qualities of “To Russia My Homeland,” the band disappears under the parade of musicians they hired to augment their sound.
The band does have its own time to shine, but the perpetual middle-finger wagging of “Worlds Apart” and the ode to fallen civilization, “The Rest Will Follow” strangely sound like the band at its most “stripped down.” That’s not to say they are clamouring for radio play and mass acceptance, but it sounds like the band is getting there.
Much like how “Aqualung” was Ian Anderson’s way of telling fans and critics that he was in the process of overhauling Jethro Tull’s classic rock sound, Worlds Apart is the band in a transitional phase. Granted that transitional phase involves them sounding like Oasis’ “Who Feels Love” (Let it Die) and Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” (The Best), but its better than being stuck in Sonic Youth purgatory.
Your enjoyment of this album depends on two factors. The first is how much you were expecting the band to advance beyond their original material, including 2002’s delicious Source Tags & Codes. Worlds Apart is not as tight a package as their previous album, but in many ways it is a more rewarding listen.