Due to our special theme week, we didn’t have the chance to mention another new release we were eager to hear that happened to come out the same day last week. The latest album from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, IX, came out here in the US last Monday, but considering it had been released in various forms weeks earlier, it was easy for it to get lost in the mix, even for people that listen to Trail of Dead as much as the Foo Fighters. We’re still processing IX (in many ways the album it most resembles is Tao of the Dead, but we’re not ready to give a verdict beyond that initial comparison), but we decided to use this opportunity to defend their most unfairly-maligned album, Worlds Apart.
Like many fans, I first encountered …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead during their Source Tags & Codes days, and to this day that album still stands out as one of the landmark indie rock records of the 2000’s. I remember catching the premiere of “Another Morning Stoner” and being transfixed by their relentless yet melodic approach, with their catchy cyclical, arpeggiated guitar lines tied to an ever-rumbling drum pattern punctuated by insistent snare hits and rolls, as the emotional intensity of the vocals increased with every verse. At a time when rock music had become stagnant from a creative perspective, it was a revelation to see a band with this much energy and ambition creating a complete “album”, with shifting moods and repeating motifs that added up to a brilliant whole.
I wasn’t the only one enraptured by Source Tags & Codes, as it ended up at the top of numerous best-of lists for 2002, and it set expectations sky-high for their follow-up. Due to my living situation at the time (attending college in the middle of nowhere), I remember having to make arrangements for purchasing Worlds Apart as soon as possible, either borrowing a car or pre-ordering it online, although I think the preparations were probably rendered moot since we likely received advanced copies at the radio station. No matter how it was procured, the important point is that as soon as I played the album, it instantly proved to be a worthy successor to Source Tags & Codes and became one of my favorites. The ringing guitars and pounding drums of their earlier work were again both there in spades, but Worlds Apart was aided by crisper production and greater dynamic contrast; individual parts came in with greater clarity, and the band used its increased budget effectively with their expert layering of additional instruments (namely strings, piano, and extra percussion) to create added depth to their sound, as well as utilizing keener ear towards balancing the extremes in volume. Aside from these technical advancements, there were still plenty of great hooks and memorable melodies throughout the record, from the explosive “Will You Smile Again” to the anthemic “The Rest Will Follow” to the strident “Caterwaul”. I’ve found myself singing that one in particular for days on end.
Since I had established and reinforced my own opinion of the album through several repeated listens, I was surprised to learn that Worlds Apart received extremely mixed reviews. There were some that agreed with my assessment, that the band’s output had matched its ambition and that the music supported such a grand artistic statement, but there were others that felt that despite the herculean effort the results fell short. Then there was a third category that utterly trashed the album, though several of their reasons ultimately rang hollow–I can understand if you felt that the record was a little over-the-top or too bombastic, but to claim that it was a sell-out record when there were no obvious singles or that it was confused when everything flowed perfectly together seems more like anticipating the backlash than engaging the work on its own merits. We all have different tastes, but these criticisms seemed out-of-place with what I was hearing.
Though to this day I continue to listen to Worlds Apart on a regular basis, the band appears to have distanced itself from the album, with only “Will You Smile Again” and “Caterwaul” making regular appearances on setlists (which is a much better fate than what befell So Divided, which the band has apparently deemed unworthy of performance). And while Trail of Dead’s newer albums seem to focus on one aspect at a time (the overly-serious and histrionic The Century of Self, the energetic if shapeless Lost Songs, with Tao of the Dead a workable compromise between the two), it’s a shame that their work which best marries their epic tendencies with their raw emotions goes unrecognized at best or needlessly scorned at worst, as its fiercest critics are the loudest and insist on repeating its supposed failings years after the fact.
But I ask you to take a listen to Worlds Apart with fresh ears, because it has aged better than you might expect. Let your stereo explode with those big guitar lines, pound your head along with the multiple drumsets driving the beat, and get wrapped up in even the interstitial music (“To Russia My Homeland”, the end of “A Classic Arts Showcase”) which both maintains a connection between the songs and helps delineate their existence as well. Get lost in the grandiose “All White”/”The Best” one-two punch, sway with the ballad “The Summer of ’91”, or kick your heels to the biting and irreverent title track–the band’s got everything covered. If that doesn’t satisfy you, I don’t know what will; but at least I’ll feel better knowing that you gave this album another shot.