Never a band to shy away from arty pretensions, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead made its name by taking stabs at loud, monumental rock from the unlikely starting point of indie-land, a place where the dress code is relaxed and the average group's singer looks like its average audience member. Not content with that scene's constricting everyman rock, Trail Of Dead started off blazing and strange, attaching an intricate weirdness to its scratchy guitar rock via atypical lyrics and a heady album-sleeve aesthetic. All promises were kept and all postures made sense with Trail Of Dead's intense, full-throttle live show, but it's had serious trouble capturing that feeling in the studiountil now.
The more subdued tone of Worlds Apart, Trail Of Dead's fourth album, might seem jarring or counterintuitive at first, but the decision to sacrifice some volume in order to highlight layers and complexities paid off. The blast furnace of 2002's mostly great Source Tags & Codes has cooled into a restless patience that allows subtler elements the room to breathe and contribute: Without its cooing, string- and choir-assisted breakdown, the charged parts of the epic "Caterwaul" wouldn't sound half as affecting; without its Beatles-esque piano bits, "The Summer Of '91" could easily get lost in the shuffle. The lyrics also hit twice as hard when they're in danger of being bludgeoned: The album's title track matches one of Trail Of Dead's poppiest, most accessible songs with searching lyrics guaranteed to get no love on commercial radio. ("How they laughed as we shoveled the ashes / Of the Twin Towers / Blood and death, we will pay back the debt / For this candy store of ours.") It's a highlight on an album propelled by the desire to tug at a band's very definition.
Worlds Apart only veers slightly when it takes tentative steps too far toward the norm: "All White," in spite of its weird gospel-inspired backing vocals, just sounds a little too straight, as does "The Best," a depressing rocker supposedly inspired by Michael Jackson's life. But even when ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead slips, it's in the service of exploration. With Worlds Apart, the band takes a confident, blind leap toward a potentially confounding future, and lands solidly and triumphantly.