When the Trail of Dead released Source Tags and Codes in 2002, the folks over at Pitchfork decided it was perfect and it was handed a score of 10.0. People all over fell in love with the record, and the buzz circulating around the band was deafening. They set out on some successful tours, and immediately, everyone wanted to see what they’d do next.
Turns out they’d have been wise not to do anything at all. Their 2005 follow-up, Worlds Apart, was panned by just about everyone, often called out as a desperate attempt to win over an even larger, more mainstream audience with dumbed-down songs that lacked focus. And before long, the band, led by the outspokenly juvenile and whiny Conrad Keeley, was no doubt left wondering how they’d managed to squander the biggest head start ever granted to an indie rock band.
The answer? They didn’t deserve it in the first place, as Source Tags and Codes wasn’t actually very good. It was full of overly dramatic guitar rock that suffered from a crippling desire to feel important and some of the worst production heard in years. And now, with So Divided, they’ve effectively driven yet another nail into their coffin.
In a lot of ways, the new record is an even bigger failure than Worlds Apart. They still can’t figure out how guitars are supposed to sound, and somehow they seem to take themselves even more seriously than they had previously, still caught up in this misguided quest for the epic qualities critics wrongly spotted on Tags and Codes. Only now, they can’t even figure out where to look, and every song sounds completely different. There’s ‘Stand in Silence’, which is driving and fuzzy and actually pretty enjoyable. Then there’s the dark, bluesy shuffle of ‘Naked Sun’, the glam strut of ‘Life’, and the Beatles-ish ‘Eight Day Hell’, none of which sound particularly believable. And ‘Witch’s Web’ deserves mention too, as it’s likely the year’s most shining example of laughably overwrought, emo-ish balladry. We can only hope Keeley and the gang still believe their own press as strongly as they did back in 2002.