Monthly Archives: May 2013
!!! – Thr!!!er
The success of any given !!! song (or album) hinges on how well the band merges their Liquid Liquid-esque jams with their pop songwriting. At their best, they manage something startlingly fun and inventive; at their worst, their music can sound like the numbing backbeat of a dying party. And with their closest (and most famous) contemporary LCD Soundsystem out of the picture, it’s do or die time for !!!, at least if they want to inherit the dance-punk throne. If their fifth album, Thr!!!er, doesn’t quite go so far as to clinch that title, it does at least seem to want to court a wider audience, as the band back off from their dense, gnarled productions in favor of something smoother and stripped down. As a result, Thr!!!er is probably their most accessible record—and it’s also their most unabashedly retro. To be sure, !!! have always worn their influences on their collective sleeve, but from the robotic keyboard tones and swooning saxophone lines that punctuate “Get That Rhythm Right” to the Bee Gees/Prince falsettos on “One Girl/One Boy,” early ’80s electro-funk and synth-pop is the name of the game here. Fortunately, particularly in the record’s first half, they pull it off; this is some of the band’s purest pop, and even though a few of the members have switched up over the years, this is still a band that can work a groove better than most. “Even When The Water’s Cold,” with its lucid guitar leads and bouncing hook, is the obvious single here, that is, if it weren’t for “One Girl/One Boy”‘s glitzy stomp. “Fine Fine Fine,” meanwhile, conjures the sensual menace of early New Romantic bands like Visage, and the rollicking closer “Station (Meet Me At The)” is the hardest, most propulsive thing here. Yet, for a group that always thrived on overloaded arrangements and complex rhythms, Thr!!!er‘s reigned-in approach ends up hurting the record as a whole. Sure, the slinky “Get Your Rhythm Right” benefits, but “Californiyeah” and “Except Death” end up pulling the short straws, since their simple melodies and productions are too slight to sustain themselves in this atypically bare-bones setting. And that low-impact, low-energy feeling permeates the entire album, weighing even the best moments down and keeping them from achieving transcendence. That said, even if the highlights here don’t reach the levels of !!!’s best work, this is still a consistently winning, breezy set of jams, and you could do a lot worse than to listen in. It’s a mixed bag, but Thr!!!er still offers the hope that, one day, !!! will nail all the aspects of their sound on record to create something truly worthy of that throne.
The Dismemberment Plan – Change
While Emergency & I justifiably goes down as the Dismemberment Plan’s definitive album, Change is nearly as worthy of the honor, yet was largely overlooked in 2001 because of the Strokes’ ascendancy the previous month. As it turned out, Change was the Plan’s final studio album before their breakup, but other than the generally more relaxed mood, there’s nothing that suggests this is a group on the verge of creative collapse. Indeed, this record displays them at the peak of their powers, figuring out how to challenge themselves and pulling it off with panache. Travis Morrison referred to Change as a “night album,” something moody, involving and contemplative, and there’s no argument here. Using Emergency‘s ambling, less-structured moments, like “The Jitters” and “Back And Forth,” as a starting point, the Plan delve into more atmospheric, rhythmic territory here, eschewing diversity for focus. And since the music doesn’t style-jump as much, it places more emphasis on Morrison’s wry, poetic lyrics, which are as honest and well-observed as ever, perhaps even more so. There’s an inevitable confessional vibe that comes with a record that feels so introspective, but Morrison gets a lot of mileage out of it, approaching each song a different way. Whether he’s waxing philosophical (“Sentimental Man,” “Following Through”); cataloguing a relationship (“Ellen And Ben”); playing with surreal metaphors (“The Face Of The Earth,” “Superpowers”) or lashing out (“Time Bomb”), there’s an intellectual and emotional heft to these tracks that a lot of modern rock sorely lacks. Yet even if the album was instrumental, Change would still be an engaging album, simply because the Plan are more musically talented than most of their ilk, particularly their virtuosic rhythmic section, drummer Joe Easley and bassist Eric Axelson (check out the live jungle performance on “The Other Side” for instant proof). Because most of this record is about groove and flow, it puts the group’s electronic, jazz and R&B influences into sharper relief, resulting in some truly arresting moments and arrangements like the vibrating keyboard riff in “Superpowers,” the swinging wash of “Sentimental Man” or the spare, acoustic “Automatic.” That said, the Plan can’t help but punctuate the record with tracks like “Pay For The Piano” and the rampaging “Secret Curse” that recall their early post-hardcore work. Given the downcast, lyrically dense nature of the record, it takes more time to get into than other Plan albums, but its rewards are as great as any of the best moments in their oeuvre. If the Dismemberment Plan’s career began with an !, it’s rather fitting, if frustrating, that Change ended it with an ellipsis, one that remained until their reunion 10 years later.