Its hard for me to attempt to be witty, clever and sincere in my appraisal of this album because the Dismemberment
Plan have already done all that to a much better degree with this startling recording. I've listened to Change almost
10 times since I purchased it 24 hours ago and I can't seem to get enough of it (and listening to it with headphones as
I'm doing now, provides even more aural delights) To paraphrase Subramayan: The New Plan is this word: Beauty.
There are a certain group of songs which I classify as "flying" songs: driving, insistent backbeats over a delicate
backdrop which to me suggests the illusion of flight. "Wire" by U2; "Someone's Calling" by Modern English; "A
Forest" by the Cure; "Gut Feeling" by Devo. Add Change's leadoff track, "Sentimental Man" to this esteemed list
and get ready for takeoff. Add into the mix Travis' breathy gentle vocals and the accompanying cover art of a blue
sky and its no wonder I find myself borne aloft each time I close my eyes hearing this song. The chorus of this song
alone is obscenely beatiful ("so goddamn beautiful" "fucking beautiful" - beauty whose degree cannot be expressed
with a simple "very")
The flight continues into "the Face of the Earth", a song literally about being sucked into the air, the album
continues along less as a collection of songs and more as a stream of conciousness, through-composed song cycle
that seems to follow the arc of loneliness and depression, reaching its nadir in "Automatic" and its zenith in
"Timebomb". "Ellen and Ben" serves as a perfect P.S. to the album. Whereas the previous song detail a wish for
reconciliation in an argument ("Come Home"), an affirmation of independence in the context of a relationship
("Following Through"), "Ellen and Ben" details such an intense relationship as witnessed from an outsider. Its
almost as if the protagonist yearns for a connection to a soulmate in the previous 10 tracks but it brought back down
to earth by the sickening, self-centered actions of just such a couple in the final track.
From a technical standpoint, this album sounds amazing! Eric Axelson's bass finally has the heft it needs with none
of the mud that previously accumulated in previous mixes. Joe Easley's drum parts are ridiculously intricate without
ever being dominating. The ambience provided by Jason Caddell's synth work as well as his guitar interplay with
Morrison emits a soft haze over the churning rhythm section. And Travis' voice enters into emotive Thom Yorke
terrotory, albeit with much more annunciation and less high-pitched cries. Musical highlights include Axelson's
bassline in "Superpowers", the busy groove of "the Other Side", the rave-up in the middle of "Come Home" and the
funky chorus of "Ellen and Ben". The Plan have truly mastered the art of stunning chord-based sequences and use
them to great effect on this album.
I can't help but feel "Change"d after hearing this album. It is amazing to me that something that stirs my emotions so
much was produced by 4 guys not much older or different than myself. This music renders everything they've
produced before almost completely moot. The Plan has certainly come a long way from the days of "Onward Fat
Girl" and "Soon to be Ex-Quaker". But at the same time, there were hints of this music even back then, in the forms
of "Rusty" and "Respect Is Due". The biggest fingers which pointed the way to this new direction came from "The
Jitters" off Emergency and I and "Crush", their cover from their most recent split EP with Juno.
The two plan offerings on said EP now provide a very interesting second look in light of this new album. "The
Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich" is the ultimate epitome of the spazztic, hyperactive frenzy of their earlier work.
Entirely sample and sound effect-driven, machine-gun like syllables and a silly story; all the elements of a typical
Dismemberment Plan song. "Crush" on the other hand was the opposite. Spare, delicate, unadored and aching; much
of the same elements that define the quieter numbers on Change.
The biggest complaint likely to arise from long-time fans will undoubtedly be the restraint on this record, offering
very few attempts to crank it up and rock out. At the same time, the fact that such a record can produce such spirited
debate over defining exactly WHY this is such a good record to me already designates this record as a classic. It also
reminds me of the same puzzlement which greeted the arrival of Radiohead's Kid A. Both of these groups produced
landmark third albums (OK COmputer and Emergency and I) which sonically displayed the culmination of
everything which came before. At the time, I honestly could not see how either group could top these achievements.
The solution? Take away every element which served to define each group and start anew. Radiohead eliminated the
heavy effects-laden guitars and got their angst from synths. The Plan eliminated hooky choruses, silly song stories
and outrageous musical tricks for more understated but no less compelling and sincere songwriting. Eve
n "Time Bomb", a song I've been hearing live for the past year and never much cared for, works in the album
context as one of the Plan's most basic but nonetheless emotional numbers.
The Dismemberment Plan have entered a whole new realm now. They've closed the chapter on one phase of their
career and opened another. Some people are going to be left behind. I, however, am glued to my seat and cannot
wait to see where this journey continues to take us.
Written By: Sir Brian C.