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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
Worlds Apart
Interscope Records

Rating: 3.5/10 ?

January 26, 2005
Though it may yield favorable results for a season, excessive earnestness will invariably destroy an artist in the long run. The list of musicians that have had squirmed miserably beneath the fists of self-seriousness and heavy-handedness could probably fill a one stoplight town's phone directory; U2, the Smashing Pumpkins, Sunny Day Real Estate, Pink Floyd, the entire Saddle Creek roster, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, The Cure, Mum, and Saul Williams have all seen their careers, and often their credibility, suffer after they ceased to employ the subtle humor, purposeful ambiguity, and pregnant pauses that separate great art from decent art. With Worlds Apart, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have fallen prey to the same deadly combination of didacticism and narcissism, as they have begun to take themselves far too seriously and to demand that we join them in doing so.

Though Trail of Dead have grown franker and less subversive with each song they've released, these changes always amounted to positive growth in the past. The penchant for youthful inanity and unadulterated chaos they exhibited on their self-titled debut was channeled into pointed parody and calculated (but still fulfilling) freakouts on Madonna, and these qualities practically vanished altogether on Source Tags & Codes. "Days of Being Wild" and "Baudeliare" nodded toward the sneering attitude of the band's early work, but they spent most of the album posing existential questions, grappling with a world that feels like "a hole that [God] likes to piss in." For all its introspection and soul-searching, though, Source Tags still kept the band's brutal imagery intact - just as "Half of What," the highlight of their first album, dealt with romance while walking through a corridor with skulls on the wall and sliding down the side of a hilltop underneath a brutal "Easter morning sun," this third set of songs still spoke the language of excrement, gutters, middle fingers, and pot smoke. It wrestled with eternity, but remained obsessed with the most temporal, disposable aspects of our existence; it was a mature, fully actualized artistic statement that presented us with a series of epic philosophical struggles but always stopped just before the scales could tip towards mawkishness. It also helped, of course, that the band still believed in the power of forceful guitars and yearning melodies, even if those guitars were a little less vitriolic and those melodies a little more in-key.

Worlds Apart, however, bears all of the marks of a band getting in touch with their inner Corgan. Conrad Keely's distaste for abstract art and post-modernism, the band's mutual admiration of self-consciously epic albums like The Unforgettable Fire and Dark Side of the Moon, and, very likely, the frustration that comes with suddenly having one's art misinterpreted, caricatured, underappreciated, and under-analyzed after it finally receives the exposure it deserved all appear to have fed into the creation of an album that many longtime fans may not even recognize.

Trail of Dead strike no delicate balances on this album, however. Though Keely ended Source Tags & Codes with a concession that some benevolent supernatural hand was guiding his life in a way that he could not quite apprehend, he's now thrown all of that record's mystery, awe, and romance out the window, reducing the "something in the world that's trying to save" him into a collection of flat maxims and black-or-white distinctions. This happens, in large part, because Keely makes the very mistake that Joe Carducci warned against in his rock aesthetics tome, Rock in the Pop Narcotic - he focuses almost entirely on social concepts, and in doing so loses sight of the spiritual. Instead of asking "how near, how far?" and probing into the depths of men's souls, Keely comments almost exclusively on the world around him, and the aspects of the world on which he chooses to comment are, quite frankly, pretty shallow. "Classic Art Showcase" points the finger at television, with a melodramatically yelped chorus of "here I am/comfortable/in arm's reach of a black remote." Rather than choosing to examine the underlying issues that drive one to get lost in television - apathy, lack of purpose, lack of education, hopelessness, escapism - Keely only treats the symptom, failing to add any clever turns of phrase or fresh perspectives that would justify taking a few jabs at this long dead horse. The song makes roughly the same level of social commentary as a teenager sporting a black department store T-shirt with "Doesn't play well with others" scrawled across the front while waiting for Mom to pick him up after the 7:45 movie.

Similarly, the title track also stoops to reductionism, triteness, and juvenile ranting. In the song, Keely literally urges the listener to "look at those cunts on MTV with cars and cribs and rings and shit," once again making a broad generalization about a surface-level issue, and ignoring the complications that arise from the fact that his own band participates in and forms alliances with this world - there will be no dirtying of the hands with moral ambiguities this time around. The song's criticisms are further blunted by the fact that the song is a decidedly radio-geared affair - palm-muted Good Charlotte guitars cozy up with Keely's careening vocals (which tower over the mix throughout the album) during the verses, and it's all over two minutes after it begun, with no movement or progression whatsoever.

And it's this last part that truly kills Worlds Apart, for as pandering as the lyrics may be, they could be forgiven if the songs still brought the rock, and they don't. At all. "Caterwaul", one of the few Jason Reece contributions, finds a relatively catchy post-grunge groove and serves as punishing contrast to the mid-tempo ballads that dominate the record, and "Will You Smile Again for Me" may actually be one of the band's best songs, moving from At the Drive-In-esque clamor to a minimal section with wailing sax and tender vocals to a slowly building classic rock stomp in a truly epic seven minutes, but every other song is too calculated and streamlined to make much of an impact. Layers of keyboards, strings, extra percussion, and digital gobbledygook glut up the mix, bleeding into a gigantic mess of a backdrop in which the whole is actually less than the sum of its parts. Many songs go on a minute longer than they should, and almost of all of them take the good ol' verse/chorus/verse/chorus route, lacking the astonishing crescendos that made songs like "Another Morning Stoner" so gripping. Ultimately, it all ends up sounding a hell of a lot more like Muse record than a Trail of Dead record - and a bad Muse record at that.

Perhaps the most concise picture of everything wrong with Worlds Apart is its very first track, a one minute, sixteen second introductory bit entitled "Overture." The song begins quietly, and builds upon a militant drum snap. Strings swell and immediately bombard the listener with more drama than nineteen "Tonight, Tonight" 's, and a chorus of chanting voices pipes in as well, and though I'm not sure what the voices are saying, it sounds like it's in some sort of dead language. The mock epic cuts off with a shriek, and a woman's voice mutters the band's name, and "Will You Smile Again for Me"'s rocking central riff chimes in. This is the way Jerry Brockheimer films begin, not rock and roll records. This is what I would saunter out to if I were heavyweight champion of the WWF, not what I would pop in to start my day off right. This is the sound of a band buying into their own press quotes, succumbing to the notion that they're on some sort of divinely commissioned missionary assignment, and forgetting the fact that they've gotten to the point where they have the sort of budge to pull off this sort of tomfoolery by simply leaning their detuned guitars against their amps and engaging in a base version of primal scream therapy atop an ocean of ebbing feedback.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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