Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Dismemberment Plan - Change
If De-loused is shrouded in obscurity, mystery, and mythology, then Dismemberment Plan's 2001 Album Change is at the other end of the poetic spectrum. The defining feel of the album for me is one of clarity.
The albums cover suggests it's nature pretty succinctly. We have the idea of change in the lower left, framed by a vast blue sky which leaves room any number of possiblities. It hints at what the lyrics make plain, it is time for airing our some demons, cleaning out the closets, and getting rid of some baggage. It makes for great road music.
The tone of the album is a two part mix that works perfectly to capture the feeling of starting afresh. The past is all there in all its mire and angst, you wouldnt know it at first but you're in for a lyrically dark album, singer Travis Morrison puts all the weird shit on his mind right there onto the track, and he does it with great poetic skill. It sounds like something out of Dave Eggars , its dark and heavy, buts its just quirky and fresh enough not to embarass itself too much with melodrama. Which brings me to the second part of the trick which is the rest of D Plan's musically optimistic tone. There's so much energy there musicly that you're convinced that the narrator is going to make it out alive and all the better for having confronted his demons. I use "narrator" because as tangible and many of the songs feel they are mostly fiction or at least offered from a perspective other than the singer's.
The album starts out with a sort of introduction: Theres no heaven and there's no hell/no limbo inbetween/i think its all a lie/ just a white light out to velvet black/then back to neutral grey/thats all when we die. It then comes back to say don't be fooled by my realistic take on the afterlife, I'm actaully fairly sentimental, "but you can bet I'll keep it real."
Starting with the second song The Face of The Earth we get a couple doses of brilliant little every-day vignettes which use what seem like insignificant details to capture the core feeling of each event: as kisses go it wasn't anything out of the ordinary/the alkaline lips/ her fingers hooked around by belt/she had to go/ she took a step back in and then she started to smile/ a heard a funny sound/ and everything seemed to shift.
The albums 4th track Pay for the Piano is a call to arms in the vein of Ted Leo's Shake the Sheets, another album that nearly made the list. And, while I have a chance I want to pay tribute to a couple others you wont be seeing. First Maratime's We the Vehicles which features D plan alumnus Eric Axelson which plays to me like a Change-lite. It's beautful, clean, and focused but missing the raw fire that puts Change over the top. Also, Mountain Goats Babylon Springs EP, puts off a similar vibe. But, well be seeing more of them soon.
Starting with the 5th track we get three songs of hard-core self-searching and bitter depression, sort of the existential core of the album. This trifecta by turns bring out some of the best emoting the album has to offer, best exemplified by the explosive Secret Curse which ticks like a time-bomb through the verses: secret curse/unwashable stain/ugly when bold/boring when plain/stricken with pleasure and taken with pain/ I'm nervous and lost and I cannot refrain, and then completely freaks out and fluxes as Morrison howls "IM SORRY!" over the chorus.
Next up Following Through rolls around and the spell is broken. The narrator cuts his losses and moves on with a statement of autonomy and freedom. Then comes the albums 2 song hit parade Time Bomb and Other Side.
Time Bomb is what got me into the album in the first place. The hooky verse, easy emotion, and focused narrative are the most accessible minutes of the album. I kept going back to D Plan's(or simply "The Plan" as many fans prefer to call them) web page to listen to the mp3 on repeat, to hear it build and get bigger every 30 seconds and let the self-pity wash over me like a thousand comforting hands.
Man am I a sucker for some self-pitying. Bright Eyes I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, was another front runner for this list , and his side project Deciperacidos too. This isn't to say I'll be leaving the exquisite pleasures of comfort music off the list entirely, its just too rewarding to sink your sadness down into a bath of lush violins and minor guitar chords. I dont think I'll ever get over it.
The Otherside is a much more sofisticated attempt which basicly makes the statement that yes, relationships with people can be hard work and we are going to hate eachother some of the time, we're going to doubt eachother, and be confused about what exactly it was we wanted in the first place. But, if we can keep from copping out we might be redeamed and reaffirmed just around the corner. You get the feeling that the otherside is the albums central statement or lesson learned. The music is tight and fast every bit as sofisticated as the lyrics. It reenforces the albums feel of accountability and honesty. Good luck finding a handful of albums in the history of rock music that can do this with any sort of success, or for that matter even try.
The album ends with the bouncy Ellen and Ben the story of a doomed relationship as told by an embittered witness. It gives a sense of being above and beyond and past and condescending that makes a great sort of bookend.
Don't expect a song by song for any of the remaining posts.
St. Louis locals So Many Dynamos have been trying for years to get the word out about The Plan and this was my introduction. I still feel like I'm in on some great secret that few people really know about. I just as easily could have never found this album which is what makes the experience all the more enamouring . You might have noticed I've given very little past or future in which to place the album, and thats basicly how I view it; just a great peice of humanity that needs little context in order to be appreciated.