Until recently, thanks to its frontmen, Conrad Keely and Jason Reece, . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead were a musical Jekyll and Hyde. Keely’s the music’s architect, using a symphonic template to graft its swelling guitar figures and his short-range wheeze into orchestral layers. Reece is the gnarling beast underneath it all swiping at the Jenga-like structure Keely carefully assembles. ToD became essential listening when they meshed their personalities on 2002’s behemoth Source Tags and Codes. The album spends equal time on stately cogitation and feral aggression, bottling art rock, punk, metal, and prog into one well-shaken tonic.
On Worlds Apart, that mixture starts to separate: Tracks like “And the Rest Will Follow” and “Will You Smile Again for Me” retain the propulsive rhythms and dive-bombing crescendos of Source Tags, but here the band relies almost entirely on Keely, who dabbles in major-chorded piano balladry, a Southern rock opera complete with down-home piano and backup voices, whispery Beth Orton-style trip-hop, and high-pitch heart-on-sleeve emoting. It’s all so precious; let’s hope they still break shit live.
Reece is the album’s missing piece, stuck behind the drum kit while Keely goes on walkabout. He only fronts “Caterwaul,” a churning insertion that speeds on tracks of undulating bass while the vocals alternate between phone sex with the late Michael Hutchence and guttural screams. So the next ToD album will forsake the grandeur of melody for the shock of rage, right? If so, better to have stolen OutKast’s two-in-one recipe to retain the desired consistency.