Review Summary: Finding a way to dissociate
: The decision “this will be the last one.” Did that become before, during, or after the creation of the record?
: Do you remember the moment, the moment when you knew?
: Well, I mean I brought it up, the conversation first. The funny thing is honestly every album could have been the last. Because every album was difficult. There was always something that could have ended this band."
-from the Invisible Oranges interview with Joseph Schafer, 11/16/16
Of course I respect The Dillinger Escape Plan's decision to break up in the wake of what they view as one of their high points, to leave a legacy of genuine intention rather than obscure themselves into self-parody. Few bands in their scene had an identity quite as clear as Dillinger's; after all, who else could put such spastic mathcore freakouts right next to a catchy pop-rock tune or a six-minute lounge ballad without the listener thinking twice? When a band like this gives their fans a new album and informs them that it will
be the last - despite there being endless possibilities with this particular sound - certain expectations are going to form. Listening to Dissociation
though, I can't help but infer that the band might've removed themselves from the process a little early. The album definitely retains the grandiosity and the finality of a swansong in a few important areas, but appears less than fully baked in several more.
I feel the looming breakup may have had an adverse effect on the writing process here. Of course, I don't want to focus too much on what Dissociation
looks like next to Dillinger's previous albums, as per the band's sound, they all stand alone in their own ways. There are certain patterns though, certain traits the band seemed to continually embody, in unique ways that only reinforced their inherent unpredictability. My first point is this: why now does the band suddenly feel the need to turn every song into a fully-fleshed, multi-passage suite? Past albums made very clever use of one-two punches. On Miss Machine
, 'Panasonic Youth' blew your brain apart with a quick flurry of sporadic motifs, only to prepare you for the much larger and longer 'Sunshine the Werewolf.' Option Paralysis
reversed this; the memory of epic 'Farewell, Mona Lisa' is wiped away by the quick and vicious 'Good Neighbor.' And Ire Works
made use of numerous shorter heavy songs, lending the extra length to the singles and the more experimental cuts. On Dissociation
, every song feels like it's being forced to meander through an already laid-out blueprint with all these arbitrary structural inclusions that Dillinger once made a career of scoffing at.
'Surrogate' was clearly written well enough to suit its extended length; it moves gracefully back and forth from dissonant spazzing to huge descending chords, and also sports a great softer part that builds up a really nice tension. But while opener 'Limerent Death' has the madness reminiscent of several classic Dillinger tracks, it cheapens itself with its absurd, overlong outro. The whole middle section of 'Manufacturing Discontent' feels largely superfluous, and the song is plagued by too many stop-starts that make what could've been a fairly thrilling metalcore track choppy and rather tedious. Luckily, 'Apologies Not Included' isn't longer than it is, as besides its effectively punchy outro, it feels like it's in a perpetual state of overlap, with the guitars and drums stuttering off each other, never quite locking into that signature anti-groove. Furthermore, I suppose the length of 'Symptom of Terminal Illness' makes sense for its decided melodic
nature, though the lackluster melody is another discussion. On the whole, that nearly all the songs have some trimmable fat gives the album a serious pacing issue. I'm used to jarring trips from The Dillinger Escape Plan, not slogs.
I won't go as far as to say that Dissociation
dips into self-parody, as it's clear that for all the album's possibly misguided intentions, there's still an undeniable conviction present here. A conviction, and still that classic progressive mentality. Despite this though, the album really doesn't come up with any new loops to throw you for. There's the jazzy guitar solo in 'Low Feels Blvd,' essentially reiterated by the trumpet. 'Wanting Not So Much To As To' has a nice, understated trippiness to it, and of course you have the elegant string arrangements in 'Nothing to Forget' and the closing title track. But all these elements seem to come in right on cue, right as a hole is made for them to fill. I find experimentation in rock-based genres most thrilling when it's worked in thoroughly, so thoroughly the listener can't deny the intention, as opposed to designating a cut-off point and saying 'now here's the weird part.' The closest this album comes to actual invention is the IDM-inspired frenzy of 'Fugue.' Not to say I'd go to a Dillinger album looking for 'actual invention,' but I think it'd be inaccurate to say they haven't been pretty damn close in the past.
Now, contrary to some mainstream attitudes, we all know that a band is not defined by their vocalist, no matter the genre. But when your band has a vocalist as confrontational and as flashily multifaceted as Greg Puciato, it's sometimes difficult to ignore what he's screaming at you. Puciato has said in multiple interviews that the idea of his performance on this album was to go inward, rather than outward. And slightly informed speculation tells me that knowing you're going to break up after the tour for your current album may give you a different kind of freedom in the studio you might not have had before, a stripping away of inhibitions. These ideas are all well and good, and though Puciato was never quite one for subtlety, on Dissociation
he's more grating than ever. The 'absurdity' I mentioned in the outro of 'Limerent Death' is due to his to complete surrender of control, making his vocals sound not 'uninhibited,' but downright goofy. His spoken-word bits in 'Wanting Not So Much To As To' are frankly kind of terrible, by both the triteness of the words and the hyper-serious delivery. And I'm also reminded of the strange ferocity with which he screams "Please let me be by myself, I don't need anything
" to mind-numbing effect in 'Nothing to Forget.' The man does his job, there's no denying that. But it seems on this album, he falls into a pattern of overcompensation.
For all its awkward fretting and fussing, I'll still say that what Dissociation
leaves us with is an effective kind of beautiful. The title track's epic strings are indeed called for, and the way they're blended with the tasteful electronics is pure Dillinger. I also have to say that "Finding a way to die alone is better than what I was shown
" is easily one of Puciato's best lyrics. The chilling finality of the line perfectly matches the triumphant drumbeat the song rides out on. Still, nothing could erase my puzzlement with the album's previous forty-four minutes. I can't help but wish that this, one of my favorite bands' swansongs, came at least close to the level of precision and eccentricity achieved on past releases. But of course it will remain, remembered as a full-forced last hurrah and as, I guess, the last inevitable step in the band's evolution. A strange way to lose indeed.