MUSIC Fans of the Dismemberment Plan may have found initial listens to Uncanney Valley (Partisan Records), the group's new post-breakup album and first original material in a dozen years, a little jarring. For a band that built its reputation upon jittery post-punk freakouts and raw, cathartic lyrical output, the more streamlined approach could take a little getting used to.
But from the nervous angst of 1999's Emergency & I, to the more somber and reflective comedown of 2001's Change, the four-piece has always managed to hold a mirror to the time and place its members were in at the time. Now, they're in (or approaching) their 40s, and are spread all over the East Coast with marriages and full-time jobs occupying their time. The new material is a flawed but ultimately rewarding reflection of the Dismemberment Plan, now.
Formed in 1993 and steeped in the Washington, DC post-hardcore and art-punk traditions of bands like Fugazi and Jawbox, the Dismemberment Plan's success came slowly but surely over the following decade. The band's signatures — including its inventive rhythm section (propelled by the manic drumming of Joe Easley), injection of synthesizers, and erratically sharp vocals of frontperson Travis Morrison — came into perfect alignment on Emergency & I, one of the finest indie rock albums of the 1990s. When the band called it quits soon after touring to support its follow-up, Change, it all felt a little premature — though there certainly weren't any expectations by fans or the band itself for an eventual reunion. That all changed in 2010, when the group got back together for a brief tour to commemorate Barsuk Record's reissue of Emergency & I.
Though the band had previously reunited for a couple of one-off shows in 2007, something about the lead-up and aftermath of this tour was different.
"In rehearsals we started jamming more and more, and we really liked what we were coming up with," Morrison said. "That led us to continue getting together to play when we didn't have any shows booked, where we'd have to be rehearsing old songs, making sure we know them and stuff like that. So that was the impetus."
That this led not only to more touring, but also to an album full of new material was extra surprising, considering Morrison, after a couple of post-Plan solo albums, claimed to have "retired" from music in 2009. With a move to New York City, a full-time gig at the Huffington Post, the co-founding of a music start-up (called Shoutabl), and a marriage all coming within the past five or so years, some time off from music definitely made sense, though Morrison has obviously since backed off of the finality that retirement represents.
"I just wanted to take a year off after moving to New York where I didn't have any shows, didn't have any bands, no records coming out ... I just wanted to live," he said. "I wanted a sabbatical — but 'retired' is so much more fun to say than sabbatical."