"A house divided against itself cannot stand," Abraham
Lincoln famously declared in 1858, and My Dad Is Dead's
new album shows how relevant the comment remains today. After
twenty years spent in the margins of indie rock and with a dwindling
fanbase that frontman (and only permanent member) Mark Edwards
estimates on his blog as "a few hundred," it's remarkable
that My Dad Is Dead is still alive. But A Divided House makes
one appreciate the band's perseverance, taking its central conceit
and slowly developing it from the personal to the political.
The house at the start of the album is a literal one, serving
as the site of personal divisions. "This house is a sanctuary/An
oasis in an angry world," Edwards sings on "Oasis,"
after exploring the ambivalence of a relationship seemingly based
mostly on mutual need for refuge from that angry world on early
tracks like "The Ladder," "My Safe Place,"
and "Novocain." But around the two-thirds point, the
album's house begins to sit in for the nation. "If the song
is patriotic/ it drowns out all the bleeding," Edwards sings
through gritted teeth on "Down Is Up," showing how willing
the occupants of his house are to avoid the harsh realities of
their world. By the closing title track, personal tribulations
have given way entirely to politics, and Lincoln's slave state/free
state division has morphed into our current red/blue dichotomy,
as Edwards delivers a blistering condemnation of sanctimonious
conservatives who use Orwellian tactics to further divide an already
embittered American house. Between vitriolic verses he offers
an effectively plaintive chorus of "can't we stop acting
like kids fighting all the time?"
"A Divided House" ends things on a powerful note, but
if the album has one significant flaw, it's length. The opening
tracks each deliver memorable hooks, but after a while things
begin to sound somewhat the same. Partly this reflects the limitations
of My Dad Is Dead's genre, which Lou Barlow once aptly
described as "a new generation of electric white boy blues;"
coming at the forefront of such hyper-literate indie rock bands
as Nothing Painted Blue and New Radiant Storm King,
My Dad Is Dead helped forge the sound of the early-1990s college
band: trebly guitars whose solos warble more than they scorch,
mid-fi recording, and flat vocals often too busy enunciating polysyllabic
lyrics to focus on melody (it takes only two tracks for Edwards
to drop a lyrical reference to synaesthesia). The sound has its
charm, but it also has its limitations. On A Divided House,
My Dad Is Dead makes the most of those limitations to create an
album that sounds like 1992 all over again-and which suggests
that, given the state of things (the album's artwork includes
shots of Cleveland's inner-city urban decay to remind us what
divided houses end up looking like), 1992 might not be a bad place
2. The Ladder
3. My Safe Place
5. Maze Of My Mind
6. Once You Know
8. The Well
9. Down Is Up
11. A Divided House
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