In 2001, it was tough to turn a blind eye to the incessant iteration of the dreaded three-letter word “emo.” And as it was with the homogenization of its predecessor?the dreaded six-letter word “grunge”?any band even subtly approximating the disposition, chord progressions, lyrical ambivalence or fashion choices of the genre’s progenitors was flung into the emo orbit like a batch of space junk. There were roundups in virtually every music magazine, expounding upon the disparate blooming of its most exciting frontrunners, pitting bands as unalike as Coheed and Cambria, Saves the Day and, yes, The Dismemberment Plan into its amoebic artistic parameters.
All three of the aforementioned bands have retained a kind of relevancy into the ‘10s, but of that arbitrarily chosen trio, none have resonated or aged quite so well as Washington D.C.’s D Plan. Further, it’s a bit of a chuckle in hindsight to have read about The Dismemberment Plan as part of some mainstreaming revolution. Anyone who’s ever listened to them knows they were (are) a revolution unto themselves, shapeshifting for the advancement of their own creative pathos, gyrating to rhythms of dark and dance-y, bold and brooding art-rock like few bands since.
Thus begets Partisan Records’ vinyl reissue of the band’s tipping point LP, Change. Released just six weeks after 9/11, the band’s fourth studio album corralled the manic temperament of 1999’s sprawling, game-changing Emergency & I and managed to rein in both Travis Morrison’s tendency to tempt the splicing of disco, funk and punk like some spastic Dr. Moreau, as well as the band’s hyper-tight musicality?courtesy of Morrison, bassist Eric Axelson, guitarist Jason Caddell and drummer Joe Easley. That this record was the band’s last until the release of the hit-and-miss 2013 reunion LP Uncanney Valley is perhaps apropos; any band would have little chance equaling the melodramas, musical mindfucks and creepy pop hubris of Morrison’s pre-Hyde Jekyll.
The reissue is timely in that it serves as a reminder of how unparalleled The Dismemberment Plan were at their zenith, when Change was released. We’re talking about a record that fell between the band being asked seemingly out of nowhere to open for Pearl Jam during the European leg of their 2000 tour, and their tour pairing with Death Cab for Cutie in 2002 when Transatlanticism came out. Nothing to scoff at. Similarly encapsulated here in a 12-page booklet containing each song’s lyrics?including those of “Ellen & Ben,” which were not included in the original release?are Morrison and the band’s strange dichotomies as fun-loving musicians tasked with the muses of serious art students. The photography found inside the gatefold mirrors that of the album’s cover, wherein the top of an anonymous building reads simply “Change,” with a blue sky dominating the frame while the bottom corners hint at treetops, chimneys, flagpoles?the artist’s eye looking ever upward.
From the lazily delivered falsetto vocals introducing “Sentimental Man” (“There’s no heaven and there’s no hell/ No limbo in between/ I think it’s all a lie”) to the nebulous musical juggernaut of professed Morrison favorite “Face of the Earth” to the R&B/funk-pop of “Superpowers” to the slow-burning, sadistic anthem of “Time Bomb,” Change fits oddly as a timepiece from a generation forced to abandon its innocence. Taken out of its era, if even 13 years, it is given ample room to writhe as it was meant to. Its astonishing edges are far from smoothed over.