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My Dad Is Dead
A Divided House
Unhinged Records

"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 at all.

-Whit Strub

Track listing:
1. Unmade
2. The Ladder
3. My Safe Place
4. Novocain
5. Maze Of My Mind
6. Once You Know
7. Oasis
8. The Well
9. Down Is Up
10. Consequences
11. A Divided House

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