he Dismemberment Plan’s fourth album sees them moving further and further away from their origins as a straight-ahead hardcore quartet back in the mid 90’s. While Emergency & I, their last album, saw them more fully integrate the funk / hip-hop / pop influences that had always bubbled under their formative work, stretching their musical palette to extraordinarily diverse lengths, Change sees them begin to look thoughtfully inwards rather than rambunctiously outwards. The result is a record that, while still always engaging, is now more effectively moving, and still finds time to be as exhilarating as hell from time to time.
Travis Morrison’s peculiar, quavering voice is put to use delivering vignettes of his daily life, the musings of a man standing at a slight angle to the world, telling things in the first person, as straight as he can see them and with little pretension. Sometimes wistful, sometimes angry, often confused, his lyrics stand out in much the same way as the band’s music does, by doing familiar things in unfamiliar and creative ways. There is little new about the subject matter in his tales of love and loss, but his humility, attention to detail and perspective make them seem refreshing. ‘The Face Of The Earth’ would be a standard rumination on past love, were it not for his down-to-earth and bemused manner – “it’s been a couple of years / and I guess I’m fine about it / it’s not like we were married / it was three or four months”. Elsewhere, ‘Ellen & Ben’ recounts the tale of a pair of friends lost to the world in a consuming love affair, as seen from outside – “every time I tried to ask them something / they started making out all again / I thought it was rude”. At the other end of the spectrum ‘Time Bomb’ lays down Travis’ anger and bitterness in gloriously explicit fashion, as he claims “I am a faultline / and I’m pulling apart the ground / that lays beneath your newest life”. There’s something endearing about the way Travis often eschews conventional rhyme, meter and other contrived lyrical tools in favour of fitting his words around the melody of song however he can.
Musically The Dismemberment Plan are as tight and as telepathically fluid as it is possible to be. Only Fugazi and Lambchop can compare for musical insight and interaction between band members. While the too-fast wig-outs of previous albums have almost disappeared, their legacy remains in the band’s ability to shift the dynamic of a song from one extreme to another. Morrison and Jason Caddell’s guitar lines alternately twist, snarl and chime depending on what a song calls for (often covering all bases in the space of a single track), while Eric Axelson underpines everything with throbbing, melodious, dub-inflected bass, tight and deep. As for Joe Easley, he is quite simply one of the best drummers on the face of the planet, as comfortable with 4/4 power-pop as he is fucking around with live drum and bass on ‘The Other Side’, loose and funky one moment, solar-plexus-shakingly powerful the next. On top of this, the band’s democratic and free-thanking approach to keyboard duties give the record an even broader eclecticism and unpredictability - ‘Following Through’ is nearly straight alt.pop, ‘Secret Curse’ is muted-but-still-frenzied hardcore, and ‘Ellen & Ben’ is 22nd century post-punk funk.
Emergency & I was a furious and sometimes unfocused statement of the band’s ability and intent, covering many bases and winning serious acclaim. With Change, however, The Dismemberment Plan feel little need to show off with self-conscious musical ostentation and excess, instead choosing to focus themselves on making a fantastic, understated and involving record. They’ve mellowed certainly, but they’re far from being boring and staid. What comes next is anyone’s guess, but it ought to be good.