Review Summary: Pure, bleak, beautiful, and then nothing.
So begins the demise of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Two decades of insanity, acclaim, and stylistic changes coming to a glorious end, one can’t help but fall into the cliché that they truly are going out on top and on their own terms. Said stylistic experimentation means that approaching a new record is something of a tightrope in terms of expectations. After all, there is still a subsection of their audience clearly bitter that they haven’t released direct copies of Under The Running Board
sporadically over the last 18 years, but I digress. Stepping into Dissociation
, the only certainty is that the following 51 minutes will not adhere to any expected formula or structure. That being said, one thing you can always expect from a new TDEP album is that the first track will be a firm smash to the jugular, and on this, the final entry to their discography, they certainly do not disappoint. ‘Limerent Death’ ramps up the snotty punk aesthetic, and while it lacks the immediate spazzy headf***ery of openers such as ‘Panasonic Youth’ or ‘Farewell, Mona Lisa’, this track sets a fantastic foundation for the rest of the record to build upon, and the outro sets something of a precedent…
The majority of Dissociation
is not just heavy, but matter-of-factly unhinged. The Dillinger Escape Plan have always built a stellar reputation on being surgically precise in their performances and recordings, and while this has not in any way been compromised, there is a clear sense of danger and unknown feelings finding their way on board. Greg Puciato and Ben Weimann have both spoken of their experiences and anxiety being driving forces going into the production of the album, but not even the most devoted of followers could have expected an end result like this. Tracks such as ‘Surrogate’, ‘Honeysuckle’ and ‘Apologies Not Included’ don’t break any ground in the framework of the tracks, and structurally they could have blended into the tracklist of any of the band’s last 3 records, but there are extra elements on show here. For a start, Puciato’s vocals are drenched in vulnerability and uncertainty for the most part (which I concede, can be a little bit offputting if you’re not a fan of his vocal style, as it has a tendency to wobble and sound a little more nasal than usual), but when he bursts forth with his trademark venom, everything sounds amplified to 11, powerful and triumphant but with an almost demonic flourish, as if he is losing control of his own strength. Unfortunately for the fans amongst us, this is
his final form.
After their covers of Aphex Twin’s ‘Come To Daddy’ (on the Irony Is A Dead Scene
EP) and Massive Attack’s ‘Angel’ (from the Plagiarism
EP) – a track like ‘Fugue’ is not wholly unexpected, but what is extremely jarring is just how precisely and competently it comes together – very light on natural instrumentation, this is a massively successful jaunt into Squarepusher circa 1997 territory, as unsettling grooves and cold, clinical synths stutter and bounce over a schizophrenic mix of live drums and programmed beats. This isn’t the first time they have toyed with this style by any stretch, but it is absolutely the most fleshed-out and satisfying that their efforts have ever sounded. We are also treated to these elements during sections of ‘Manufacturing Discontent’ and the closing title track, but more on the latter later.
TDEP albums rarely pass by without a little foray into jazz, ever since the then-out-of-place experimentalism of ‘Sugar Coated Sour’, but in keeping with the rest of the album, the mid-section of ‘Low Feels Blvd’ is their most accomplished attempt, almost sounding like a foray into 1970s fusion, but still managing to comfortably allow itself to be bookmarked by pounding mathcore. It’s almost unfeasible to me as a listener how these ideas can sit so comfortably amongst each other without sounding like an intentional reach or show-off, but this just lies in their enigmatic appeal.
It is also worth noting at this point that Dissociation
lacks anything that screams out ‘radio friendly unit shifter’. Now, of course, this is far from important to the band themselves, I’m sure, and most fans of this genre don’t rely on the radio for new music. However, while there is no ‘Black Bubblegum’, no ‘Nothing’s Funny’, and no ‘Unretrofied’ on display here, this record is strangely accessible. TDEP have shown themselves to be no stranger to pop music (surely influenced by Puciato in particular) but what they have created here is a mash-up of really every different style in their arsenal, made no attempts to put any studio sheen on the chaos, and somehow given us a product that welcomes in the listener, from the slow build-up of ‘Limerent Death’, twisting through the insanity of the bulk of the record, and leading us to the closer. ‘Dissociation’ as a swan-song is perfection. This is a funereal march, drenched in sadness and beauty. Think the ethereal ambience of The Black Queen, but drive up the polyrhythms in the background, add the context of everything that has brought the band to this point as the track builds, and at the 3.47 mark, the stripped back, cold despair that shines through is an outstanding representation of the end. Pure, bleak, beautiful, and then nothing.
Farewell guys. May your discography - complete with this truly outstanding final act – be testament that you are and were the most important act in extreme music.