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Review: The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley
Published on October 3rd, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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Uncanney Valley is The Dismemberment Plan’s first new album in twelve years, but it sounds like they’ve never been away.
That might read like an idle, perfunctory way with which to kick off this review, but it’s true; it sounds like the next logical progression from 2001’s Change, albeit the intervening decade’s worth of maturation also shines through.
Change seemed altogether cosy in the wake of The Dismemberment Plan’s jittery, explosive 1999 masterpiece Emergency & I, perhaps a misleading impression implanted by its gently magnificent bookending tracks “Sentimental Man” and “Ellen and Ben”.
In truth, it contained its fair share of incendiary moments – “The Face of the Earth”, “Pay for the Piano”, “Timebomb” – the likes of which are largely absent from Uncanney Valley.
Hence the seamless transition; in retrospect, Change is a pretty precise halfway point between Emergency & I and Uncanney Valley (NB: the D-Plan’s frenetic first two albums ! and The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified are also well worth your time).
Whether it be through contentedness, softened worldview or what have you, Uncanney Valley is relatively restrained. Joe Easley’s drumming remains energised and complex, but time signature trickery and sudden eruptions of distortion are no longer this band’s calling cards.
Travis Morrison’s lyrical prowess, however, remains undimmed. Album opener “No One’s Saying Nothing” sees him announce himself with “You hit the space bar enough and cocaine comes out / I really like this computer”, which may or may not depict a state of daydream in his everyday gig as a programmer.
“No One’s Saying Nothing” begins and ends with sleigh bells, conjuring a good-natured feel furthered by fizzy organ arpeggios and a cartoonishly wah-ing guitar effect, all dirtied up a tad by a weird sort of grinding sound in the background. It’s an excellent start, but the best is yet to come.
The immediately ensuing “Waiting” hit us for six upon first hearing it. As much should be abundantly clear from our five-quail review of it in a recent singles round-up. It’s quite possibly the song of the year, by anyone anywhere.
Just listen, for crying out loud:
That midsection of “You know I’d change my life for you / For promises that won’t come true / I’d do it all again, you know you can’t give up on love / But for someone that who cares, isn’t only out for theirs / I’m just waitin’, anticipatin’ someone who will treat me great / Knows that I ain’t second rate / Wants a love that feels like fate”…
…not exactly Morrison’s most memorable lines on paper, but the warmth, benevolence and (somehow) naivety he invests them with make it all so deeply affecting even through his hyperactive delivery.
Each and every instance of “Ain’t got the time for waiting” is inflected with such kindly tiredness, such tired kindliness, there’s just something about it…basically, this band’s capacity for hitting you with multiple resonant emotions all at once remains gloriously intact.
Next up we get the most Emergency & I-esque numbers of the set in “Invisible” and “White Collar White Trash”, illuminated as they are by dynamic mastery, rushing beats and the lyrical likes of “Now I’m biting my nails and calling it dinner” and “I am not an inhibited man / Try to keep it in my pants when I can”.
“Lookin'” and “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer”, meanwhile, could have fit snugly onto Change, the former a touching sort of love song that, at the risk of filling up this review with too many lyrics, we just have to quote:
“Sometimes you give me the very same look you’ve been giving me all these years / And every time I do it, I think to myself, ‘What a good thing we have here’ / I’m lucky that you love me, ’cause my luck is not that great / And you seem to be made of horseshoes, it’s like you’re blessed by fate”…it’s just wonderful.
The latter, an ode to Morrison’s late father, slips another of those rushing beats underneath its prevailing sweetness to be deceptive yet entirely natural-sounding, while the sly groove of “Mexico City Christmas” bursts into an intense, brooding chorus that upholds the variety within this more defined Dismemberment Plan framework.
More great lyrics: “Being a poet is a pretty good gig / You fuck with the best stuff and you keep the rest hid / God takes out His little highlighter pen / And he highlights the best stuff again and again / He says, ‘I don’t know how you missed this’ / And I light it up like a Mexico City Christmas / I’m not the smartest tool in the shed / I try to get smart and I get dumber instead”.
Sorry, we’ll stop now.
All of which leaves the rumbling, riotous chant-along of “Go and Get It”, like some industrial “Spirit in the Sky” it is, and the great grumbling ‘n’ grooving bass line and floodlit melody of “Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight”. Listen out for a spectacular call-and-response mid-section, one that we shan’t deign to reproduce for you here.
The Dismemberment Plan are a formidable unit, so teeming with individual strengths that sometimes it’s just easier to home in on Morrison’s lyrical topsoil. This however does a disservice to the myriad melodic hooks, riffs, textures and general flourishes that make up a typical D-Plan song.
On Uncanney Valley they sound more relaxed, more at ease than ever, but they still pack so much punch. It is to be sincerely hoped that they stick around for more.
Uncanney Valley will be released on October 14th through Partisan Records.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!