Review Summary: A people's history of The Dismemberment Plan
The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency and I
can be summarized as the expression of feeling alienated and anxious in an often cold and disorientating modern world, as experienced through the eyes of a few disgruntled 20 somethings. Loved ones had left, the city was wide open and full of possibilities yet also so empty, leaving our boys absurdly aimless. Tales were told through a disjointed series of snapshots (“Plastic cube filled with pus that sits atop my supervisor’s desk / the feeling of ice on the inside of a wrist /always tired, need a nap / I have to make myself brush my teeth”) that painted an unsettling and disappointing picture of adult life. Change
was the band moving on, more comfortable with their situation but still not content as others’ lives progressed faster than theirs to their dismay.
A People’s History of the Dismemberment Plan
is what happens when the aforementioned LPs are cut up and remixed, collaged to almost unrecognizable ends by fans and friends of the band. On some tracks an entirely new direction is taken, with the best aspects of the band's rhythmic sensibilities adapted into catchy techno beats that retain a lot of the bands core sound (working off of their “dance punk” influence). But, for the most part the end result is that the disquieting and gloomy feel of their work is accentuated. Paranoid, skittering beats flit about in tandem with Travis Morrison’s lonely statements, while the often melancholic and buzzing keyboards provide a disarming backdrop to his existential crisis. For example, “The City” has been re-imagined as a frantic neo-noir piece that evokes a similar but markedly different city to the one illustrated on Emergency And I (Washington D.C). Instead of the “streetlights hum” or “iridescent grid” that gave a feeling of a city abandoned by life, this city is bustling with neurotic uncertainty and suspicion. The once warm, comforting keyboards have been stripped down to flat piano notes while the orignal synth melody has been replaced with saxophone, adding a perverse, unhinged feel to the track.
Similarly, “The Jitters”, an ode to apathy and the disconnection between individual and modern life is now all jittered up and Travis Morrison’s dreary vocals are reduced to an eerie echo. It’s testament to how remixes can achieve more than the original in tone and scope, as the most alien and empty sounding track on Emergency and I
has now been stripped of its little remaining humanity into a cold and hollow murmur, skittering impersonal percussion and robotic atmosphere.
True, there is some joy left as standout track “Life of Possibilities“ retains the chill atmosphere of the original, morphed into a dreamy, meandering track that bubbles along continually at one pace. Even though the lyrics attached to it are of alienation, (“growing sense of despair / you don’t know anyone” and “if they do care/ oh they’re not letting it show”) It’s warm and comforting tone prevails with the synth melody from “The City” pleasantly familiar in the chorus.
But, like so many compilations and remix albums the lack of a consistent theme can be irritating, as songs tend to just cut into each other with often jarring transitions. While both Emergency and I
arguably had consistent themes, when their tracks are mixed up and altered to this extent the result is a just a pile of remixes that feature a hint of connection but no flow. For example, the remix of “The Automatic” is ironically the least automatic song here, a droning snooze fest with little to no variation and a style that seems forced in comparison to the original. Wedged in between two of the most driving and lively songs its only accomplishment is killing all momentum. But what do you expect when a band's work is adapted in this way? These are the same songs, the same stories just told through the minds of individuals who've put their own spin on it, keeping the original message but adding bits on or cutting parts out. It’s similar to how myths are created and change over the years, surviving through word of mouth but losing and changing parts of their essence each time. Sometimes the original idea is lost and the song comes off worse for it (“The Automatic”) but for the most part this compilation is an excellent testament to its own title, every song uniquely familiar and yet something strangely new. Truly a people’s history of The Dismemberment Plan.