The Dismemberment Plan
Two years ago, The Dismemberment Plan released Emergency & I, an album that was undeniably one of my favorites of the decade. So much music comes across my desk that it’s rare that I listen to any record many times after I’ve reviewed it, but two years later, I still listen to Emergency fairly regularly. Moreover, it was a constant presence in the old Ink 19 offices, where it would play almost daily throughout 2000, and during the marathon production sessions that the old print beast required, it would often play more frequently than that. Many’s the record review that should have been completed that was put off because we were instead blaring Emergency & I at 3 AM for the nth time (so now all you other bands know who to blame!). In short, to say anticipation was high for Change would be the biggest understatement since the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where John Cleese’s Black Knight called his own dismemberment “only a flesh wound.”
Luckily, it was all worth the wait, as Change is easily one of the best records of the year. While the band maintains its signature mix of layered keyboards, driving, danceable rhythms, and chiming guitars, all topped off by Travis Morrison’s pleading, insistent vocals, there’s nothing “formula” or pat about Change. Where the band could have easily gotten away with remaking Emergency, they instead heed the album’s title and explore all manner of new ideas. In other words, while the record still sounds like The Dismemberment Plan (something no other band can do), it still sounds fresh and different from the band’s prior efforts, at once familiar and completely new. Take the skittery “The Other Side” for just one example: at its heart, the song is a herky-jerky mix of funky bass and complex, unpredictable (and amazing) drums, and taken on just those elements, would sound unlike anything the band’s done before. But there’s just a hint of atmospheric guitar and keys that shade the track, and these elements combine with Morrison’s distinctive vocals to create a comfortable familiarity on what would otherwise be a very big departure. Similarly, “Pay For the Piano” is a bit more “big time rock” (think U2) than what you might expect from The Plan, but takes these atmospheric little breaks and turns that really set the track apart.
Other highlights include the bouncy story-song “Ellen And Ben,” with its Prince-like guitar flourishes and judicious use of sampled sound effects; “Superpowers,” the most Emergency-like track, with its stuttering keys and groove-y bassline (I wish it was the theme for Smallville — it’s better and more appropriate than that wretched Remy Zero track they’re using); “Secret Curse,” for its quiet verses that build and flow through a rapid-fire delivery (think R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” only better) that crescendoes in an insistent, loud, hard chorus, Morrison’s pleas of “please, please, I’m sorry” resonating with a palpable passion and anguish; the jangly “Following Through,” which culminates in a dreamy falsetto on the choruses; and the perfect, transcendent “Time Bomb.” I’m also completely in love with the way this album is sequenced, tracks flow easily into each other, often segueing directly into the next track without a pause, each track the perfect follow-up to the one before. Check out the way “Following Through” slowly descends into “Time Bomb,” or how “Sentimental Man” drifts into “The Face of the Earth” for just two examples of what I mean.
To make a long review short (lost cause at this point), I love it. Change is about as close to being perfect as it can be, the next best thing to having the band play live in my living room on demand for my personal enjoyment. I expect to be listening to Change at the same frequency I did Emergency & I (sorry, all you other bands waiting for reviews). It’s no wonder that The Dismemberment Plan have become one of my favorite bands; in a world where few things can live up to my expectations of them, The Plan never fail to exceed my very high standards. As I told a friend recently, “all must know The Plan.”