Emergency and I
turns 14 years old tomorrow. To put it another way, there are now kids in high school as old as that album. It's not something I want to spend too much time dwelling on. One of the definitive albums of the post-hardcore movement from a band that helped usher in the post-punk revivalism of the early 2000s, the Dismemberment Plan didn't make follow-ups easy for themselves (and front-man Travis Morrison's now infamous solo album didn't help things) which is perhaps why the band disappeared off the face of the Earth after 2001's Change
. If you can't live up to your own legend, maybe don't try. And while 2013's Uncanney Valley
has its moments, it's clear that, at least in this first album of their reunion, that the D-Plan isn't what it used to be.
The Dismemberment Plan has always been about a genre fusion that's rarely been tried outside of the band. Take the jarring, discordant chords of punk rock and marry them with RandB circa early 90s De La Soul. It shouldn't work but it takes one listen to "A Life of Possibilities"
or "What Do You Want Me to Say"
to know that it weirdly does. And thankfully, from a musical perspective, Uncanney Valley
is as exciting as anything the D-Plan's ever done. Though the band has softened some of their punk edges, it allows them to take sonic risks that would have seemed out of their wheelhouse. Instead of feeling so rooted in the D.C. underground punk scene that birthed the band, the new record embraces the bands they helped inspire, specifically Interpol on "White Collar White Trash" or The Strokes on "Go and Get It."
Unfortunately, Travis's cryptic lyricism and mind-burrowing lyrical hooks from the past albums have all but disappeared from every track but album stand-out "Invisible." Whether it's Morrison's bizarre decision to half poorly rap, half sing on "No One's Saying Nothing" or "Waiting" or the consistent half-utilization of Morrison's distinct soulful voice in favor of Gilbert and Sullivan-esque patter numbers vocally, you want to find yourself lost in the superb musical arrangements of the record but constantly get drawn out of the experience from half-cooked lyrics and unimpressive vocals (though a joke about Ludwig Wittgenstein on "Lookin'" almost makes up for some of this).
Like last year's Celebration Rock
, 1999's Emergency and I
was a youthful and exuberant record that connected with those last hurrahs of twenty-something rebellion (though Emergency and I
also had a somber and meditative side). Uncanney Valley
has a song that could fit in on a particularly reverb-drenched Counting Crows record, "Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer." There's even a song, "Mexico City Christmas," that becomes LCD Soundsystem-lite. So, if you want the Dismemberment Plan to be one thing, you are going to be very disappointed. The new musical direction the band takes is actually exciting and adds a joie de vivre
to the record and it's clearly going to be a "grower"; it's a shame then that Travis's lyricism and vocals couldn't live up to that new standard.