...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

So Divided

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Disappointed by the less-than-strong sales of their previous album, Worlds Apart, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead almost called it quits. Instead, they rebounded by entering the studio for what they intended to be a quick EP, which blossomed into their fifth full-length, So Divided. Worlds Apart was an intensive labor of love that sometimes crossed the line between ambitious and overwrought, but the frustration that fueled this album also gives it focus and vitality. So Divided is a noticeably leaner and more focused collection of songs, mostly stripped of the interludes and preludes of Worlds Apart ("Intro: A Song of Fire and Wine" and "Segue: Sunken Dreams" are the only nods to that album's elaborate structure), but it still operates on a grand scale. The defiant, widescreen rocker "Stand in Silence" -- which rages against writer's block -- is just as anthemic in its quieter passages as it is in its bolder moments, while the title track, with its galloping tempo and surging guitars, feels like a fresher take on the drama of Source Tags & Codes. Along with quintessentially Trail of Dead songs like these, So Divided also finds the band experimenting with very different sounds. "Naked Sun" begins as swaggering, off-the-cuff blues, takes a detour through brass, and then expands into a majestic symphonic section. "Eight Days of Hell" is a subversively perky, poppy track that begins with a drum intro straight out of the Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine" and ends up sounding like Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with a better-developed sense of irony. After the often-overcooked experiments on Worlds Apart, hearing AYWKUBTTOD apply their restless creativity in a variety of ways on So Divided is especially refreshing, whether it's the mix of Polynesian percussion and accordions on "Wasted State of Mind"; the Stones-y, pedal steel-driven ballad "Witch's Web"; or the intricately layered production that unites these songs. Interestingly, one of So Divided's most lavish tracks ends up being its weakest. Guided by Voices' "Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory"'s melody already suggested swelling strings and soaring backing vocals in all its tinny, four-track glory on Bee Thousand, so the Trail of Dead's cover -- which actually adds the strings and vocals -- ends up sounding not much more impressive than the original. While it's not really a throwaway, it's not quite up to the level of the album's original songs, and probably would've been a better fit had it remained an EP. Nevertheless, So Divided's remarkable balance between the band's grandeur and power makes it far from a disappointment.

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