…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s third full album on Interscope Records, “So Divided,” sounds like an indie rock update of the classic rock groups played on radio stations with names like “The Hawk” and “The Barracuda.” The album’s sonic aesthetic suggests a toned down version of that machismo (though this reservation doesn’t prevent the band from breaking their guitars on stage, a la The Who).
Constant jumps from influence to influence are scattered, leaving the listener unsure what the actual, cohesive Trail of Dead sounds like, but — perhaps because of their appeal to listeners’ appreciation of bands like The Beatles and Queen — the tumult works. “So Divided,” rather than sounding original and reminding the listener of nothing, manages to remind the listener of everything.
The album is the follow-up to the critically panned sophomore effort, “Worlds Apart.” Deemed too studio-processed and lacking in energy, “Worlds” fell short of expectations set by the band’s promising first album, “Source Tags & Codes.” “So Divided” falls somewhere between the band’s other albums, sampling both studio staleness and raw musicality. Which side wins out varies from moment to moment and track to track.
This struggle between extremes permeates the album. The themes of separation are occasionally heavy-handed, however: The title track “So Divided” features the lyrics, “All our friends are here./ Somehow we seem so divided.”
But for all its troubles, “So Divided” has one thing going for it: The album is never boring. “So Divided” is exactly that, and never stays in one style for long. It leaps from punk in the second track, “Stand in Silence,” to post-grunge in the third, “Wasted State of Mind,” displaying a jarring brand of genre ADD. The styles and lyrical subjects jump around, but the conviction with which Trail of Dead plays keeps it together. Barely.
At times, though, “So Divided” threatens to get away from its creators. Their cover of Guided by Voices’ “Goldheart Mountaintop Directory” (renamed “Gold Heart Mountain Top Directory,” perhaps for the sake of maintaining the division theme), lingers for slightly too long and is treated with too much reverence. The song’s in-studio ornamentation sometimes gets out of hand, overpowering the band itself, and this trend continues on the album’s other tracks as well.
“So Divided” can feel like a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation with blaring audio clips, videos on every slide and rainbow-colored text. The material might be insightful and unique, but it’s hard to tell through the excess noise. But despite the layers of musical extras obscuring the album’s true artistry, enough of the talent heard in “Source Tags & Codes” comes through to make “So Divided” worth a listen. Trail of Dead has enough momentum to keep the divisive, overplayed elements of the album from pulling it apart.
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…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead