Words About Music
The Dismemberment Plan “Uncanney Valley”
Back in 2011, indie rock/post-hardcore/math pop heroes The Dismemberment Plan reunited after a few successful shows. They split up back in 2003 after the release of four excellent albums, some of which are still considered masterpieces. They were loved for their intricate instrumentation, honest and darkly humorous lyrics, and nonabrasive attitude towards the D.C. post-hardcore sound. Earlier this year, they announced their fifth studio album “Uncanney Valley,” the first since 2001’s “Change.” While anticipation was high, I imagine expectations were pretty low. I mean, most of these guys hadn’t really written or played music over the near-decade long breakup. Sure they still kill it live, but can they come back and make a record as awesome as any of their others? And that’s what worried me.
At first listen, I was not really feeling this record at all. Where were the jittery, frantic drums? Where were the borderline-emo lyrics that so defined a generation of do-nothings in the 90s? Well, that’s the thing. It’s not the 90s anymore. None of the members are in their 20s anymore. Lead singer Travis Morrison is a father and husband who spent a few years writing for the Huffington Post during his break from music. He doesn’t really have the same problems or feelings he did back in 1999. So naturally we’re to expect something different from the Plan. And in this case, different is done to mixed results. Most of the songs on here are a ton of fun, even if the lyrics tend to get silly in a way that isn’t fun.
I can’t think of any albums that have started with the line “Hit the space bar enough and cocaine comes out; I really like this computer!” This is the kind of tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek humor we are dealing with that has always been a huge part of the Dismemberment Plan. I mean just look at their early fan-favorite “The Ice of Boston.” Travis proclaims his love for Gladys Knight and impersonates his mother in a charmingly inaccurate way. What’s not to love? You can look at “Girl O’Clock,” too, in which Travis stutters his way through talking to a girl. And I am talking some hardcore stuttering. A lot of the Plan’s made-for-IFC humor is peppered throughout this record, too, whether he’s chewing on his fingers and calling it dinner, singing about Madonna’s art collection, or using “When I say ‘Cluster,’ you say ‘Fuck!'” as a call-and-response.
Now like I said, this album is not perfect. There are a couple songs on here that seem like experiments gone poorly, like the somewhat boring/introspective tracks “Lookin'” and “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer” or memorable-for-the-wrong-reasons track “White Collar White Trash.” Other than that, the rest of the tracks range from decent to great. The best part of this album is that it actually feels like a Dismemberment Plan album that could have been released after “Change” if they didn’t break up. The unmemorable tracks fade into the background while the more upbeat, fun, borderline ridiculous tracks stand out, and that’s been the way of the Plan since Day One. Sure “Uncanney Valley” kind of eschews the math-rock goodness that was teased on some of their albums, but The Dismemberment Plan is like a really cute puppy. Even when they do something you don’t like, it’s hard to stay mad at them.
While “Uncanney Valley” wasn’t the success I wanted it to be, it is definitely growing on me more and more with each listen. Maybe I could grow to enjoy the songs I currently don’t, but for now this is a decent reunion record. And if this band continues to make music I really hope they find their footing and can achieve “Emergency & I” level greatness again.
SCORE – 6.3
FAVORITE TRACKS – No One’s Saying Nothing, Waiting, Invisible, Living In Song, Mexico City Christmas, Go And Get It, Let’s Just Go To The Dogs Tonight