Tuesday, January 11, 2011
[pitchfork.com] The liner notes for the reissue of the Dismemberment Plan's Emergency & I come as an oral history: interviews with the band, label types, and D.C. scene staples, touching on everything from the death of singer Travis Morrison's father shortly before the album's conception to the band's oft-repeated, ill-conceived goal to cross-pollinate Radiohead and De La Soul. Among the best bits is Morrison's story of sketching the album's now-famous cover on his computer, then showing it off to skeptical friends. "People would just stare at me," he remembers. "It's a weird image. I've seen people with tattoos of it in the last few years."
To a certain segment of indie kids, many now indie adults, branding ourselves permanently with that weird sunset scene seems no stranger than an older dude's Black Flag bars or a youngster's Funeral laptop wallpaper. To many, Emergency & I is that record; breakup balm, to be sure, but also the voice in your head, the thing that seems to say as much about us as we know about ourselves. Though its influence on music at large has been difficult to chart, if we're to gauge a work's import by what it's meant to the people that come across it, Emergency & I is one of indie's key LPs. Its songs-- nervy, cacophonous, uncomfortably real-- actually mean something to people, whether they came to the record recently or have been letting it run through their lives for the last decade and change.
The history of Emergency & I isn't contained in the particulars of Eric Axelson's bass tone, or the band's brush-up with Interscope, or how much they liked Brainiac, or what was or wasn't going on in D.C. in the late 1990s. That stuff is just the prelude. Fact is, the history of Emergency & I lies with the people; people who hear too much of themselves in "The Jitters", who've vented spleen to the tune of "What Do You Want Me to Say?", who've cast off all shackles to the strains of "Back and Forth". Morrison claims not to grasp the significance of the album's title, but it's always seemed fairly obvious to me: There's the encroaching chaos of modern life-- the emergency-- and then there's you, standing outside it, yet inextricably linked. Emergency & I is a record about learning how to live with both.
Better than anyone, Morrison captures that awful, driftless, locked-up feeling you back yourself into sometimes; bored at work, unlucky in love, low on friends, lower on prospects. You're unsure where to move, be it another city or into another room, or whether either is worth the effort; that feeling, so perfectly articulated in "The City", that "something seems to happen somewhere else," yet for reasons financial and social and geographical alike, you're powerless to do anything about it. Call it self-insult to existential injury: You're so down, you start counting yourself out. That's "Spider in the Snow", in which a change of scenery still means the "same VCR, the same cats"; the same rut. That's "Memory Machine", in which eternal life seems little more than an excuse to chain-smoke. That, especially, is "The Jitters", in which our sick and sad protagonist can't bring himself to do much more than 10,000 push-ups a day.
But allowing himself to wallow or pointing fingers at everyone but himself, Morrison assesses the situation, turns over the problems in his head, sorts out what's in his control and what's out of it, and moves along. He sometimes invents elaborate metaphysical devices-- the all-access pass of "You Are Invited", the memory machine of "Memory Machine"-- to explain away what a more rational observation couldn't, but he's a strikingly realistic, austere lyricist, detailing just how dull feeling like crap can be, encouraging action even when he's not so certain he can manage it himself. He's not striving for perfection, just normalcy. That's struggle enough.
READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW HERE.
Posted by Dan Goldin at 1:08 AM