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The Dismemberment Plan - Uncanney Valley Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 7
Musicianship 7
Lyrics 7
Production 7
Creativity 7
Lasting Value 7
Reviewer Tilt 7
Final Verdict: 70%
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The Dismemberment Plan - Uncanney Valley

Reviewed by: Chris Collum (10/09/13)
The Dismemberment Plan - Uncanney Valley
Record Label: Partisan Records
Release Date: October 15, 2013

At the very end of 1999, The Dismemberment Plan leapt out of the D.C. post-punk scene and into the indie rock limelight with their third album, Emergency & I. And for good reason: Emergency & I is a gripping record that melds elements of noisy post-hardcore with a breed of angular pop unique to the D Plan, driven by arguably the best rhythm section in indie rock. Hovering above the musical fray is vocalist Travis Morrison, whose lyrics capture the vapidity and loneliness of post-collegiate urban life in a fashion that hits like a punch to the gut. Songs like album closer “Back and Forth”—which is perhaps the most danceable number in the indie canon pre-LCD Soundsystem—call to mind Dylan and the Talking Heads in the same instance. Morrison’s rapid-fire vocal delivery conjures the image of a man standing in front of a microphone, clutching a notebook and spewing line after brilliant line he had scribbled down moments ago.

The band’s last album before Uncanney Valley, 2001’s Change, showed a mellower side that included a whole lot more synthesizers as well as Morrison broadening his lyrical scope. Shortly thereafter the band broke up, and Morrison released a few abysmal solo albums before quitting music altogether and going to work for Huffington Post. All was quiet in the D Plan camp until 2011, when the band reunited to play a few club shows, and then a few festivals, and then a few more club shows, and then they were working on a record…and you get the picture. They’ve followed a fairly typical reunion trajectory.

It’s always hard to know what to expect from a recently reunited band releasing their first album in a long time, but Uncanney Valley feels like a very natural progression for the band. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, however. Sure there’s a lot of merit to an artist releasing record after record in the same musical vein if they do it very well, but Uncanney Valley at times veers dangerously close to sounding like a paint-by-numbers record. That’s disappointing given how boldly unique the band’s last two albums are, but it doesn’t mean that this record is bad necessarily. It just fails to excite in the way we’ve come to expect from The Dismemberment Plan.

The biggest issue with Uncanney Valley is unsurprisingly the biggest issue with Morrison’s post-Plan solo output: some of the lyrics are really, really bad. I must admit that until this week I had largely avoided his solo work for that very reason, but I’ve now stuck my toe in the water enough to know that I shouldn’t be as surprised by some of the clunker lines on this record as I initially was. Morrison’s lyrical style is not the same as it was in the band’s late-nineties and early-aughts zenith, and the results are very mixed.

On “Mexico City Christmas,” one of the better songs on the record, Morrison sings, “Being a poet is a pretty good gig / You fuck with best stuff and keep the rest hid,” but he doesn't always do that on Uncanney Valley. Taking critical potshots at a lyricist always seems a bit petty—I mean the guy has the courage to bare his inner self for the world, who the hell am I to say he did it poorly? But lines like “I’m lucky that you love me, ‘cause my love is not that great / But you seem to be made of horseshoes, it’s like you’re blessed by fate” from “Lookin” aren’t just cringe-worthy, they’re bad enough to totally sink the song. It doesn’t help though that “Lookin,” which describes the tenderness that replaces passion as a relationship matures, is a mid-tempo number that goes absolutely nowhere. Sure Eric Axelrod thumps out a solid bass line in an attempt to give the song some forward momentum, and there’s some mildly interesting synth work towards the end, but as a whole it simply fails to excite.

However, despite his lyrical misses on several songs, Morrison does deliver a few gems on Uncanney Valley. “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer” for example stands among the best songs The Dismemberment Plan has ever recorded. The title of the song says it all; it’s a wistful depiction of someone’s father (presumably Morrison’s) who apparently was a damn good dancer until he had kids and “gave his dancing shoes away.” What sells the song though is Morrison’s vocal melodies. In the verse he keeps it spare and simple, in juxtaposition with a whining slide guitar line. But then his voice soars above the churning chorus in what is surely one of the catchiest hooks in the Plan’s discography—no small feat to be certain. You’ll inevitably find yourself singing “Ohhhh Daddy, Daddy was a real good dancer” for days on end after listening to the song.

Morrison dips back into the kind of scenes he portrayed on Emergency & I with “Invisible,” which depicts a restless and seemingly “invisible” man riding the train from Point A to Point B as he’s “biting his nails and calling it dinner.” It’s the first track on the album that really stands out, fusing a chiming piano line and eerie samples into a driving minor-key rocker. It’s worth noting that if you sit down to listen to this album and after hearing the first lines (“You hit the spacebar enough and cocaine comes out / I really like this computer! ) you want to smash the disc or record or computer, hang in there because the album’s back half is much, much stronger than the first half. Uncanney Valley ends on a high note as well with “Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight,” as Axelrod’s bass work finally jumps out of the mix in a way it mostly doesn’t on the rest of the record, and it’s not difficult to envision interactive sing-a-longs for this song a la “The Ice of Boston” at future D Plan concerts.

Overall it’s not really fair to label Uncanney Valley as a bad record, because it isn’t. It’s a fairly solid album, and other bands returning from a decade-long hiatus have certainly made far worse ones. But don’t expect it to soundtrack your lonely winter nights or real-time existential crises the way Emergency & I might. Although it’s so heavily doctored it takes you a moment to realize that’s what it is, there’s a reason the album’s cover is a picture of the band performing. The tone of this record is much closer to “four dudes just rocking out” than their previous albums, but as a fan of The Dismemberment Plan it’s hard not to join in the fun most of the time. Sure Morrison’s occasional lyrical forays into cheeseball territory can detract from the record, but taken as a whole there’s more to like here than there is to hate. Even if Uncanney Valley doesn’t stand up to the band’s previous work, it’s great to have The Dismemberment Plan back.


Additional Information1. No One’s Saying Nothing
2. Waiting
3. Invisible
4. White Collar White Trash
5. Living in Song
6. Lookin’
7. Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer
8. Mexico City Christmas
9. Go and Get It
10. Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight

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Chris Collum
AP.net Staff Reviewer
Twitter | Last.fm
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 18
12:04 AM on 10/09/13
Chris Collum
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If you're a diehard D Plan fan, before you rip into me for not gushing about this album keep in mind that if we still did "reviewer tilt" I would have put it at about a 9. I like this record a good amount even though it isn't as solid as their previous stuff, but it's got some undeniable flaws that could easily turn off someone who's never heard anything by the band before.
01:19 AM on 10/09/13
Nuns On A Bus
Hobson's Choice
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Nuns On A Bus's Avatar
7 is fair, it's got too many flaws to give above that. But it definitely has its moments where it sounds like the old them
01:38 AM on 10/09/13
Chris Collum
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Chris Collum's Avatar
7 is fair, it's got too many flaws to give above that. But it definitely has its moments where it sounds like the old them
For sure. There's hints of the old D Plan poking through. I hope this isn't just a one-off record because who knows maybe they have another classic in them.

This album has proven two things about Travis' writing though: 1. he still has the ability to write a great song but 2. he needs someone to tell him "No Travis, that line is too corny/cheesy/quirky, don't sing that."
04:31 AM on 10/09/13
Modern Leper
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This album is fantastic. 9/10 from me.
07:12 AM on 10/09/13
easy come and easy go, whatever
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Jeff_Ryan's Avatar
I Facebook-status'ed "biting my nails and calling it dinner" last week
07:14 AM on 10/09/13
Chris Collum
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Chris Collum's Avatar
I Facebook-status'ed "biting my nails and calling it dinner" last week
Haha, great line
07:34 AM on 10/09/13
Ryan Dennehy
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Ryan Dennehy's Avatar
This all sounds about right. After a few months with the record i don't really have a desire to listen to it that isn't better sated by the previous two records. The second half of this is much stronger than the first.

Great review (obvi)
07:36 AM on 10/09/13
Chris Collum
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This all sounds about right. After a few months with the record i don't really have a desire to listen to it that isn't better sated by the previous two records. The second half of this is much stronger than the first.

Great review (obvi)
Thanks bruh bruh
07:59 AM on 10/09/13
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phaynes1's Avatar
Very enjoyable album good review
12:23 PM on 10/09/13
Registered User
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gonfreaks's Avatar
Great review, pretty much the same as my opinion for the most part. The album is good (I'd give it about a 7 as well, maybe a bit lower to a 6/6.5) - musically it's usually pretty solid but lyrically it's very hit or miss and it's probably as close to a safe record as the band could have made. I knew I shouldn't have expected the band to just jump right back to making a record as good as E&I or Change (especially after Travis put out those thoroughly mediocre solo records) but I was still a bit disappointed at first. It's grown on me a bunch on subsequent listens but it's too inconsistent to be as good as a lot of their previous work. Even still, I'm glad the band's back and I hope that they continue to make more music together. There are enough moments of the band's former brilliance here (Daddy, Mexico, Dogs) that they could have another fantastic record in them.
12:26 PM on 10/09/13
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0NTH3SLY's Avatar
Enjoyed the review dude. I was hoping you'd mention something about those lyrics, I mean jeeze some of the lines on this record are pretty awful =\. Overall I enjoyed Uncanny Valley though. I think this review is fair.
01:02 PM on 10/09/13
Chris Collum
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Thanks for reading everybody!
01:25 PM on 10/09/13
sung by a hack
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KidASquared's Avatar
I like this album and 7 is a solid score, I agree w/ it. some tracks are great while others aren't. it's sweet to see the Plan put out a solid record though. I'm stoked to see em on this upcoming tour!

great review, Chris
01:44 PM on 10/09/13
La Marea Roja
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underthetalking's Avatar
Solid review. Shares my sentiments exactly on Morrison's lyrics. I'm a massive D-Plan fan but Hellfighters was such a huge disappointment to me that I honestly had some reservations before listening to this record. While it certainly doesn't stand along with E&I and Change, I'm just happy to have another D-Plan record to listen to. So stoked to see them live in NYC.
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