Let's get the prerequisites straight out of the way:
Murder By Death is not a "-core" band. They are also not an "emo" band. This ensures that they are not 'the sound of the moment'. And don't try to argue this, because you are wrong.
Now then, I first experienced Murder By Death on their tour with Thursday, This Day Forward, and Every Time I Die. I (and everyone else in the building) was so blown away by their set that I ran straight to the merch girl to pick up the cd. I hadn't done that in a long, long time, because I'd been burned that way before. But I had $10 to drop without risking my dinner, so I did.
The CD was originally released in 2002 under their old name, "Little Joe Gould". Great choice to change the name, guys (and girl). It opens with a track called "Those Who Stayed" (the obvious counterpart being track 8, "Those Who Left"). Opening with an instrumental song is a choice that wouldn't work for a lot of bands, but these guys pull it off smoothly. The song is a haunting prelude to the rest of the album, and also shows off the unusual instrumentation of the band - specifically, their electric piano/keyboard and cello. (In fact, at about 1:54 into the song, it is reduced to these two instruments exclusively.) The building intensity at the end of the track leads to a great transition into "I'm Afraid Of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf".
The band's skill for building intensity is a large point of debate - usually they build the crescendo, and then abandon it. The opening of "I'm Afraid Of..." is an example of this - the last track ends in a very intense way and then the song opens with a slightly distorted drum sample. This turns some people off as they constantly expect the breakdown; I, personally, enjoy the tease.
"A Caucus Race" is one of the more laid-back songs on the album - which is odd because it seems panicked for a bit before relaxing again. Still, it's not one of the highlights.
"You Are The Last Dragon (You Possess The Power Of The Glow)" is the next song, and this is one to enjoy. It has its own personal intro before starting with the guitars - it's the first point at which the guitar really stands out and doesn't blend into the landscape. This song creates itself by having the instruments crashing into each other, attacking and then pulling back like some kind of crazed army. It's probably my favorite on the CD, and definitely the one to measure it by - if you hear this song and don't like it, you won't like the CD.
"Joe Bou" follows up next, beginning in a way that's not entirely unlike "Caucus Race". The leisurely ending of this song is the best part of it, with the keyboard ringing into the cello.
You'll probably have noticed by now that I don't mention the vocals much. They fit, and they're definitely great, but you usually don't notice them - as they blend in just as well as the instruments. They follow the song instead of the song complementing them, and this doesn't really let them stand out. That's okay though, as they really are wonderful when you catch them.
"Flamenco's #*!$in Easy" follows. The song feels...like the other ones, really. The band is careful to not deviate too much from the sound you expect by now, while still creating something that you haven't heard on the cd yet. Regardless, this song is a bit redundant at this part of the album. The lyrics, however, are quite amusing - "Hey Boss / Hey Boss / I'm capable / of making your / life easier / but I'm drunk on promotions...can I get you some coffee?"
And next we have "Intergalactic Menopause", which opens with just the guitar and bass before letting the cello slide in. The song is almost optimistic sounding(which is amusing from a band who wants to create "evil, evil music"). It's a great break from the darkness while still staying "thick".
"Those Who Left" feels like it closes the album proper - the next track and the hidden one after it feel like they're outside the range covered by the first eight songs, and that's okay. Anyway, aside from a bit of screaming here and there, "Those Who Left" is instrumental, and again, it is wonderful. This is one of the few bands who excels as well at instrumentals as they do with their "normal" songs.
If this album was a movie, "Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption Is Such A Good Movie" would be the trailer for the sequel. It carries various feelings, long stretches of instrumentals, a few lyrics... It just has the feeling of an "everything" kind of song.
The extra track isn't really anything special, like most "hidden" tracks, but it's a nice little extra to listen to.
All in all, this album is very solid, and it's something that a lot of different people can listen to - as long as they don't expect a band that sounds like anything else. They do the "evil music" quite well, thank you. The band gets extra credit for not having any songs that are explicitly about relationships, and for having amusing song names. Make sure to pick this up - it makes a formidable addition to just about any music collection. (...Unless, for some reason, you're collecting bad music?)