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May 4, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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The Dismemberment Plan – Emergency & I (DeSoto)

You know that band, the one that you’ve liked since you were 15, but that nobody else got, no matter how many times you tried to convince them that they were the second coming, the saviors of pop, or the hottest shit on the block?

Well, for me, The Dismemberment Plan were that band. At 15 I was attending Nelson College for Boys, a school where your credibility as a musician—wait no, as a human being—came down to how good your Tool and Rage Against the Machine covers were. I played the drums, and I was fucking terrible, and so was my band. But by then I’d already found The Plan’s landmark album, Emergency & I, via Pitchfork’s 100 best albums of the 1990s feature. They were the first genuine indie group that I fell in love with, and they offered me a means of escape. Let’s just say that I don’t think I could have survived my daily half-hour bus ride to school without them.

What’s slightly strange to me is that even here in Wellington I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has actually heard of The Plan before. And that’s despite them becoming a genuine underground sensation in the US following the release of E & I in 1999. Maybe I’m a bigger Pitchfork nerd than most? Maybe I need to trade in my friends? Maybe I’ve got it wrong and The Plan aren’t really all that great? Whatever.

Rather than dwell on all that, let’s go back in time a little bit. In the post-grunge wasteland of late 90s guitar music there was a void that badly needed to be filled. What made The Plan unusual in the context of the nascent, turn-of-the-millennium indie that would eventually claim this space was their impeccable and eclectic musicianship, which they married to a wonderful penchant for writing pop hooks. So why do some people not get them, even when I try to share the love?

Perhaps it’s all down to vocalist Travis Morrison’s earnest and unreserved delivery (not to mention his tendency to say “Ya’ll,” “Yo” and “Yeah” quite often)? Lyrically the dude is all over the map on E & I, churning out personal tales on subjects ranging from sexual repression, to social anxiety, to memory machines that might aid our hearts (or something?). He can be incredibly funny as well. Take the first verse of ‘8 • Minutes’, in which Morrison describes the moments before nuclear armageddon, its is so good it bears copy-pasting in full:

Oh, launched all the world’s nukes this morning/Hoping it would kick-start something/Some of them went off course and hit the moon instead/It was kinda pretty.

Well there hasn’t been a whole lot of looting/On the other hand, oh, it’s fucking freezing/Someone on TV said something about going underground/I guess we better start digging…

When I think of good pop I think of music that is challenging, poignant, beautiful, hooky and fun. The Plan managed to be all of these things, and to their credit they pulled it off while remaining utterly devoid of pretention. They were also a true blender of a band, as happy to insert hip-hop influenced beats and heart on sleeve R&B inflections as they were to deploy post-punk’s synths and churning guitars. All that really mattered was that the listener enjoyed the ride! James Murphy gets much of the credit for launching the whole dance-punk thing, but a listen to E & I’s closer, ‘Back and Forth’, reveals that The Plan had all its elements in play way back in 1999:

Funky basslines? Check. Ringing post-punk riffery? Check. Attitude filled vocals? Check. Thumping-yet-busy dance beats? Check. Quintessential synth leads? Check.

But for all that, The Plan were always a little too hyperactive to ever properly filter their disco tendencies on a consistent enough basis to take over the world in true DFA style. They were still awesome though, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of impact they might have had had they not disbanded following the release of E & I’s excellent, if slightly too mature successor, Change, in 2001. Regardless, it’s now been 10 years since E & I shook up the independent music landscape, and I can confidently proclaim that it’s lost none of its energy, none of its humor and, most importantly of all, none of its sense of fun. Feeling adventurous? Then I suggest you check it out, and if you have heard E & I already, well… I guess that makes you pretty damn rad, at least in my eyes anyway.

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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