Somewhere out there, in the nebulous yet alluring world of alt-rock, far beyond the unforgiving boundaries of mainstream radio, lives The Dismemberment Plan. It’s what the cool kids who roam campus with their Walkmen attached to their ears are listing to. How does one find the way to this elusive symphonic land? The road lies in mix tapes, college radio and music reviews — so listen up.
The Dismemberment Plan has always been a musical nomad. Alt-indie, emo-groove, tech/funk-rock — no combination of styles could accurately describe the group’s sound, and at the same time every one seems appropriate. With the release of its fourth LP, Changes, the Plan has staked out a territory, marked it off, and claimed it as its own. The Plan took its unique sound, in particular the group members’ unique talent for painting strange sonic collages, scraped away the excess, and established martial law.
The record opens with “Sentimental Man,” spaced out and driven through by bass, a good mellow lead-in. Early on it’s apparent that this is a different kind of album for the Plan. The artists synthesize their sometimes-esoteric and all-around wacky influences (a brief list includes Shudder to Think, The Talking Heads, Public Enemy and the Beatles). They have taken notes, and written songs that are all their own.
On “Sentimental Man,” DPlan trademarks — old-school keyboard effects, grooving bass lines of Eric Axelson, tight drumming of Joe Easley, and Travis Morrison’s patent vocal style — are intricately interwoven. The key difference here is the group lets the resultant sound remain, rather than covering it up with a truckload of instruments and effects as they have done in the past. They let the falsetto chorus be.
Songs like “Pay For the Piano” and “Time Bomb” use studio effects so well you’d think guitars always make bleeps and dings. The key to this record is just that the group acquired great intuition for placement and restraint. On earlier records, DPlan threw gobs of paint against the wall to see what stuck and used those skid marks to determine the course in the studio. On Changes, the sounds are finally distinctive and polished.
Remaining true to the axiom of eluding complete perfection, Changes lulls occasionally but forgivably. And it is more then made up for on “Secret Curse,” the pinnacle, which combines the most rocking pseudo-Nintendo guitar riff that I have ever encountered with Morrison’s overwhelmingly soothing vocals. Don’t worry, he soon breaks into a scream.
In the world of alt-rock where innovation is next to godliness (that world does still exist somewhere!), Changes is a disc everyone should go out and buy. Or not. But at least you can sleep soundly knowing that someone, somewhere out there is writing songs that rock their way across the borders.