Photograph by Shervin Lainez

Photograph by Shervin Lainez

The first Dismemberment Plan song I heard was an incredibly unique version of The Cure’s “Close to Me” that still ranks among my favourite covers. From there, I delved into their back catalogue, most notably their latter albums Emergency & I and Change. This was a sound I’ve never heard before; the Dismemberment Plan managed to condense a vast field of influences into something both familiar and remarkably ahead of its time. Beyond the idiosyncrasies and complexities of the music itself, the tone and lyrics were equally refreshing. Blending a sense of melancholy and frustration tempered by a wry sense of humour, songs like “Spider in the Snow” spoke to me like no other band has.

As the band had broken up in 2003, seeing them live wasn’t a possibility, and I had to remain satisfied with recordings of the “Death and Dismemberment Tour” they did with a pre-fame Death Cab for Cutie. When they announced a brief reunion tour in early 2011, I made my way out to New York to witness one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and of course, rumblings of new material being recorded began. A few years later, The Plan’s fifth album, Uncanney Valley has emerged.

Reunion albums aren’t new; however, going against the norm, recent years have spoiled us with excellent albums by Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. There’s also been a particularly bad EP released by the Pixies. Sadly, on that scale Uncanney Valley is closer to the Pixies. It’s not an unmitigated disaster, but it’s by far the weakest album The Dismemberment Plan has put out. The idiosyncrasies and freneticism that characterized their earlier work is in short supply, traded for a poppier turn drenched in omnipresent keyboards. It’s much closer to frontman Travis Morrison’s solo albums than anything else, which were by no means worthy of Pitchfork’s infamous 0.0, but were also not his best work. “Waiting” was the first track released from the album, first heard on a call-in hotline. It’s quirky and goofy, but ultimately lacking in substance. “Invisible” and “Mexico City Christmas” best connect the band back to their past, but for the most part, the album just sounds flat. It’s missing that unique energy, and suffers for it.

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— , October 14, 2013    Comments Off on The Dismemberment Plan: Uncanney Valley

Photograph by David Holloway

January 29, 2011 – Band reunions are all the rage these days, with critical darlings like Pavement and the Pixies finally capitalizing on their indie cred, but no one inspired me to go into full-on road trip mode until I heard rumblings The Dismemberment Plan were getting back together. True, they did reunite once before for a string of hometown charity shows in Washington, but this marks their first legitimate tour since 2003. Seeing them at their sold out show at Webster Hall seemed as good as any reason to finally get a taste of the Big Apple.

Guitarist Jason Caddell’s current project Poor But Sexy served as openers, offering an interesting melange of dance, funk, and soul, but the night didn’t truly begin until Travis Morrison greeted the crowd with the opening bars of ‘A Life of Possibilities’. The classy starlight backdrop that was revealed halfway through the song, perhaps a reference to drummer Joe Easley’s day job at NASA, really set the tone for the night. The Plan focused on material from the recently re-issued Emergency and I, but all four of their studio albums were represented. Following a run through some of my slower favourites, particularly ‘Spider in the Snow’ and ‘Rusty’, the show reached a fever pitch with ‘You are Invited’. Between the entire crowd singing along, the amazing lighting cue during the chorus, and a remark that a fan drinking a Heineken wasn’t invited, the high mark was set, and the energy continued for the rest of the set.

Frequently breaking out in laughter during songs, Morrison was one of the happiest frontmen I’ve ever seen, accompanied by some of the funniest stage banter I’ve ever heard. This included such gems as referring to a fan as Daniel Radcliffe falling on hard times, out of quidditch and into beer pong. The main set closed with a version of ‘OK, Joke’s Over’ that incorporated an impromptu performance of ‘Whip My Hair’. Surprisingly, I had gone that far without hearing Willow Smith’s magnum opus, but I suppose that was the best situation in which to hear it. The encore began with half the crowd on stage as they launched into ‘The Ice of Boston’. Normally such crowd interaction would feel forced, but this was an all-out lovefest. Even the hand waving during ‘Back and Forth’ felt remarkably organic. Though an early venue curfew deprived us of a few songs, there’s no way that anyone could have walked away from the show unsatisfied. It remains to be seen whether this reunion will last, but the music world is a better place with the Dismemberment Plan together.

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— , February 4, 2011    Comments Off on The Dismemberment Plan: Webster Hall

Travis Morrison

If his website is accurate, Travis Morrison, former frontman of the late, great Dismemberment Plan, has retired from the music scene. Whether this is permanent remains to be seen, but it’s a loss that still gets me down. After all, how many people would name their band after a throwaway line from the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day? His solo material after the ‘Plan disbanded wasn’t exactly critically lauded. His debut solo disc Travistan received a whopping zero from the geniuses at Pitchfork, which effectively killed his career in the internet age. How ironic, they killed his career then report on its death. To have him leave the scene completely seems a shame, but at the same time, he’s left behind a respectable back catalogue of some pretty awesome music. Kudos to you Travis Morrison, enjoy your retirement, and don’t hesitate to reform the band if you get bored.

Travis Morrison – Any Open Door

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— , July 4, 2009    2 Comments

Covers are tricky. If you don’t do justice to the song, you run the risk of being in the shadow of the original artist. Often the better covers are those that do something a little different, but those that revel in the awesomeness of the original can be enjoyable too. I feel the need to share some of my favourites in a possibly reoccurring segment known as Duck and Cover, because I thought that was clever.

The Dismemberment Plan – Close to Me

This is a cover of one of the Cure’s more upbeat songs (they exist, I assure you), and the reason I started listening to the Dismemberment Plan. Gone are the handclaps, saxophones and Robert Smith, in are guitars, bongos, Travis Morrison and a couple of DJs. Record-scratching is probably not the first thing to come to mind when doing a cover of this song, but honestly, it adds so much to the atmosphere that I prefer this to the original. This is a great example of where going into a completely different direction works.

Radiohead – Ceremony

Performed during a webcast at the end of last year, this is a fairly straight-forward cover of New Order’s first single. Nothing is really altered from the original song, but it is a solid rendition no matter how you look at it. Plus it sent me on a 4-month New Order bender that hasn’t ended yet.

Final Fantasy – Fantasy

I never thought I’d willingly be listening to a Mariah Carey song, but Owen Pallett has done it. In a surprisingly faithful and un-ironic performance with only his voice, violin, and a loop pedal. You’ve probably already heard this, but it needs to be heard again.

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— , March 9, 2008    Comments Off on Duck and Cover