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Published: 2002/03/20
by Chris Gardner

Change – The Dismemberment Plan

deSoto Records 42
In the wake of 2000’s frenetic landmark, Emergency and I, the Plan’s
newest release sounds decidedly adult. The spastic freakouts that made the
former so brash and gripping are absent, but Change stuns with the
disarming brilliance. From the wispy, faux-britpop vocals of "Sentimental
Man" to the hyper-real jungle beat of lazy hip-hop underpinnings of "Ellen
and Ben", the album flirts with a wide palette of colors, taking a dab here
and a splatter there from emo, funk, spaz-rock, punk, hip-hop, soul, and
always rock and roll. Change is cohesive in ways that few albums
to be with each song carefully crafted to fill a gap in the collage. Travis
Morison has scripted a string of monologues from characters tangled in
emotional upheavals both common and surreal. From simple break-ups to the
sudden abduction of a girlfriend who rockets skyward, the Plan manages to
flesh out each piece with instrumentation that both frames and sheds light
on the stories, coalescing each track into a cogent whole and, then, as a
of the broader canvass.
The Plan is built upon the razor sharp rhythm section of Joe Easley and Eric
Axelson. Easley couldn’t play a boring drumbeat if held at gunpoint. The
mind-jiggling, "Is that real?" jungle beat of "The Other Side" aside, the
rhythms remain simple, but he folds tiny wrinkles into the simplest of beats
to make even the stalest feel fresh. Axelson lopes, bounces, and rumbles
along as the situation calls for it, and the two lay a path wide enough to
a blimp on. The band splits the keyboard duties, decorating the album with
drones, zonks, spronks, sound sheets, and an array of video game noises
while Morrison and Jason Caddell slash out licks that shriek, ring and hum
along to Morrison’s character portraits.
Read separately, Morrison’s lyrics glide with the spurts and pauses of
everyday speech, inconsistent and unmetered talk that doesn’t readily
adapt itself to song. "Face of the Earth" reads like a confession as the
narrator tells the tale of a girlfriend that vanishes quite literally into
thin air; the focus remains on the character adapting to life after the
event rather than the event itself. "Super Powers" tells the tale of a man
coping with his "gift", seemingly an ability to witness and, more
feel, others’ pleasures and pains remotely. Each vignette has its own story
to tell, each of a person coping (or not yet coping) with change.
The songs themselves bristle, even at their tamest. "Face of the Earth"
emerges slowly from the fade of "Sentimental Man" as the rhythm section
takes control. The band runs through the coming changes before the first
verse without giving away the mad, disembodied section that drops as the
girl is ripped from the face of the earth, "limbs flailing like an unloved
marionette". The jungle rhythm of "The Other Side" belies the comparatively
sedate melodies that ride above the swirling underbelly. "Time Bomb" grates
with menace and fractured energy. The lead in and fade of "Come Home"
reflect the listless diffidence of the narrator lamenting his other’s
departure. The instrumentation punctuates the vocals without ever
overwhelming them or taking a back seat, a delicate balance that few bands
can pull off.
Few bands have the audacity to attempt an album this grand, and even fewer
have the ability to pull it off. The Dismemberment Plan does.

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