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

So Divided (Interscope)

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What's a band to do after releasing an album, which while creatively expanding upon a sound, is both a critical and commercial failure? Give up? Or perhaps revisit the proverbial drawing board? Austin's Trail of Dead seems to have taken the latter approach on its comparatively stripped-down new release, So Divided. But with a semi-erect middle finger in the air, the band has also chosen to not entirely abandon its expansive vision of grandeur. Beginning with typical epic posturing, "Intro: A Song of Fire and Wine" kicks the record off with several minutes of chatter and applause under a slow guitar dirge. Then comes a humbler approach: as "Stand in Silence" begins, a newfound pop-guitar sensibility drives the melody, as Conrad Keely offers some navel-gazing insight: "I had a band, had a song. I had a vision, where's my vision gone?" This is not to say that the album is a mea culpa for musical transgressions past, or that the group has sacrificed its dynamic songwriting for timidity. But there is a slight revamping, from the Beatles-style singalong vocals of "Wasted State of Mind" to the bluesy Black Rebel Motorcycle Club feel of "Naked Sun." And apparently Guided By Voices' "Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory" wasn't lush enough, as the band reworks that track with a more intricate arrangement. So Divided has its moments, but its reined-in tone is overridden by a "stay the course" mentality, rendering this album something of a musical quagmire. — Jonah Flicker

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