The Shrine of Dig represents music that has made indelible impressions on our lives, both musically and personally. We plan to enshrine works and artists that stand out for any number of special reasons, from those glorious moments we first heard something captivating and new, through the continuous impacts of the music upon our lives. The induction ceremony involves multiple posts where we will both explore and pay tribute to the words and sounds which have been so important to us. In doing so, we share with you some music we believe is damn near infallible and absolutely worth listening to. View all
The Shrine of Dig represents music that has made indelible impressions on our lives, both musically and personally. We plan to enshrine works and artists that stand out for any number of special reasons, from those glorious moments we first heard something captivating and new, through the continuous impacts of the music upon our lives. The induction ceremony involves multiple posts where we will both explore and pay tribute to the words and sounds which have been so important to us. In doing so, we share with you some music we believe is damn near infallible and absolutely worth listening to.
The Dismemberment Plan's Emergency & I has spoken to me more directly and profoundly than any other album I have listened to over the past year and perhaps even in my lifetime as a music listener. The band broke up in 2003 but is reuniting for a brief tour, and this incredible album is being reissued on vinyl Tuesday (1/11/11). Whether you've heard the album or not, this is the perfect time for me to induct it into the Shrine and discuss its greatness on levels both personal and universal.
On an album full of grand achievements, the most impressive to me is how the band absolutely and completely captures the feeling of confusion of the post-collegiate years, or what is sometimes now referred to as a "quarter-life crisis." The moment when life is as big and expansive as it will ever be and it feels totally daunting instead of liberating. In other words, Emergency & I is twelve tracks that represent when the only thing you know about your life is that you want it to be different but are not able to make that happen. And I cannot fail to mention that this album is very much about the struggles of going through relationships during this time, especially not getting over ones that have ended and not having success sustaining new ones.
In short, if you are in your mid-twenties, out of school, and have had any doubts about your current happiness, the direction of your life, and how to relate to the people in it, this album is definitely for you (don't get the wrong idea though, this album is vital and lively, not depressing). And if you aren't, it is still a worthy listen.
The Dismemberment Plan – A Life of Possibilities
I purchased this album in the fall of 2004 during my sophomore year of college. I had come across it through surfing "Similar Artists" links at AllMusic Guide and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy. I was proven correct and spent a lot of time playing it over and over again. However, I did not fully appreciate the record then as I do now. That's because I hadn't yet lived it. That began in August 2009, when, three months after completing grad school, I moved back to my hometown, and, in an unexpected turn of events, started my first real full-time job a month later – a job I wasn't sure I wanted in a place I had not intended to stay. There have been some positives out of these experiences but also much difficulty.
Emergency & I hit me viscerally one day in the middle of that first awkward winter home when, on some instinctual whim, I decided to listen to the album again. I was shocked that it somehow put into words so much of what I was feeling. I suddenly understood it on a deeper level and think that is a big part of what makes it such a beloved album. When we go through this challenging period, it is so easy to internalize our strife and believe no one else can relate. This past year has been about me learning firsthand that such a notion could not be further from the truth. While it does not magically solve all your problems, having that realization is significant. I cannot speak for everyone but I do believe there are things we can't do all ourselves and that in our most difficult moments we usually need help from others to get through, even if it is just knowing we are not alone. It may not have been the Dismemberment Plan's…plan…but I think part of this record's legacy is serving such a purpose.
Of course, its legacy also comes from the incredible music. As amazing as the lyrics are, I am not sure they would be as impacting and memorable without the wonderful and innovative sounds that accompany them. The Dismemberment Plan, on this album at least, sounds like no other music I've ever heard. It is a truly unique sound. Travis Morrison has a singular voice that demands attention. Jason Caddell plays the guitar in turns angularly and textured, traversing from jittery noise to crunching bombast. Eric Axelson on bass and Joe Easley on drums bring masterful talent to a rhythm section that is an amalgamation of punk, jazz, funk, and hip hop. You can hear traces of so much different music when listening to this band but nothing really does it justice as a description. Just listen and you'll hear what I mean.
"A Life of Possibilities" is the album's first track. I was instantly hooked by the bass and voice. It keeps building to crescendo, and by that time, I knew I would be in it for the long haul. The song sets up touchstones for the whole album. The distinct sound goes from a relaxed groove to a cathartic release, foreshadowing the dynamic aural journey that is Emergency & I. Also, it is the first of many examples of Travis's gift for off-kilter yet super catchy melodies. Melodies made all the more special by the quality and quantity of the lyrics that go with them. Here, he imparts that reaching moments of possibility and acting on them requires considerable personal sacrifice, often at the expense of others. This is an unexpected lesson after a lifelong narrative of "Go for your dreams, everything will work out!"
The Dismemberment Plan – What Do You Want Me To Say?
"What Do You Want Me To Say?" is probably the closest thing to a single you could find on Emergency & I. Right from the start with that glorious drum beat and classic opening lyric, "I lost my membership card to the human race," you just know it's a special song. We have all experienced a relationship that has become one-sided. In those moments, before we accept it being over, we often seek answers and desperately try to make things work. In these last gasps, who hasn't wanted to (or actually done it) ask point blank, "What can I possibly do to show you I care, that this means a lot to me?" Or, "What do you want me to say?" That's what happens in the chorus. Not only are the words powerful themselves, but the impassioned delivery makes it transcendent. It is frustration, confusion, resentment, and devotion all mixed into one burst of emotion. Even with hundreds of listens, it still floors me every time.
Honestly, every song on the album is spectacular musically and lyrically to me. I know I cannot write about them all but I am going to highlight something special about each. I love the use of sci-fi elements for provocative explorations of human traits in "Memory Machine" and "8 1/2 Minutes." I love the vividly detailed (and sometimes painfully on the mark) accounts of ennui, isolation, depression – of finding your life is just not what you wanted it to be – in "Spider in the Snow" and "The Jitters." I love the metaphoric portrayals of relationship issues in "I Love a Magician" and "Gyroscope." I love the continued use of beautifully odd melodies and vocal delivery in "You Are Invited" and "Girl O'Clock." And I love the story of how one person being gone can change your whole outlook on your surroundings in "The City" (and is it just me or does Kelly Clarkson owe the Dismemberment Plan some royalties on that one?).
The Dismemberment Plan – Back and Forth
All of these themes and feelings come together in "Back and Forth," the tour de force that closes the album. Especially the notion of a relationship that is over but which has made an indelible mark, like in "The City." What begins as rumination on the little things that trigger memories of someone becomes a full-on exploration of the meaning of life and our significance. There is simply too much going on lyrically to discuss (definitely read the lyrics sometime). But in a way, that is kind of the point of the song's chorus. At times you have to let all the heavy stuff go – or in the words of the song, just wave your hands back and forth in the air – and enjoy the moment, enjoy the music, and not worry.
And then there's the last line:
You'll always be my hero, even if I never see you again.
I cannot put into words what I feel about this lyric and everyone deserves their own interpretation of it, but I will say that after experiencing the full arc of this album, this is a beautiful, powerful, and fitting way to end it. Perfect even.
By now it should be clear that Emergency & I deserves a place in the Shrine and hopefully you all want to (re)listen to it. It is simply stunning that a record can be so musically adventurous and captivating to listen to, both intellectually and emotionally, while also tackling ambitious lyrical topics and totally nailing them, in the process elevating the whole album to rarefied air – a monumental sum of its already substantial parts. I love this album. It amazes me, it speaks to me, and it has made a difference in my life. What do you want me to say to let you know that I do mean it besides that?
You can buy this album on vinyl here or digitally here. (Not sure where it is available on CD online…)