Music Reviews
Uncanney Valley

Dismemberment Plan Uncanney Valley

(Partisan) Buy it from Insound Rating - 2/10

So here it is, then, the first album from mathy indie-rock cult legends Dismemberment Plan in twelve years. This isn’t something anyone was expecting, Travis Morrison having unceremoniously “retired” from music in an announcement on his website five or so years ago; not to mention that D-Plan were a quintessentially mid-20s band, all their finest work perfectly delineating all the insecurities of that phase of Western life – now all four of them are on the cusp of middle age. But it really shouldn’t have been this disappointing.

I’ve come to recognise that my initial judgement that this was one of the worst things I’ve ever heard was perhaps influenced by the record’s terrible sequencing, because it opens and closes with the two absolute nadirs: The opening lines go “You hit the space bar enough / And cocaine comes out / I really like this computer”, and the next thing you know Morrison is comparing himself to “a fat nun on drugs, drowning in hugs”. Let me repeat that, because that’s what Morrison does two more times during No One’s Saying Nothing: “A fat nun on drugs, drowning in hugs”. As the album closes he leads a high-school cheer that goes “When I say cluster, you say fuck – ‘Cluster’ ‘fuck!’ ‘Cluster’ ‘fuck!’ When I say oh, you say well –“ these are such bad decisions you can’t believe they got left in, let alone at the most crucial points of the album.

Not that the quality of Morrison’s writing ever really rises above this level of bullshit. Can I just say that Emergency & I is a 10/10 album which got me through my first year of university, full of wonderful, relatable insights and songs you could really feel yourself in. 2001’s Change isn’t quite as perfect but showed signs of D-Plan growing up and moving on, reflecting in different ways. But Uncanney Valley’s lead single Waiting is literally about some jerkoff getting friendzoned and taking it out on the woman in question by telling the bar staff not to serve her (yo Travis, I’m willing to bet you didn’t “change your life” for this clearly uninterested woman, but even if you did she doesn’t owe you anything, dude). And the songs are pretty much all this vapid; Morrison tries to cover this up with meaningless wordplay, like, I don't know  “Like a clock that ticks and ticks / But never moves and never grooves”.

Maybe if you’re not a “lyrics person” you’ll be able to put up with it (it’s difficult given the unavoidable presence of Morrison’s yelpy vocals right at the top of the mix), but it’s a long way away from D-Plan’s former sweet-spot between quirky and catchy. Synths take a higher precedence this time round: it’s an indie-pop record, far from their post-hardcore roots; indeed Living in Song sounds like an Architecture in Helsinki knockoff. But even when you can hear the band trying out new things, it simply sounds turgid. Bassist Eric Axelson and drummer Joe Easley were once one of indie rock’s most distinctive, scene-stealing rhythm sections, showing off their technical skills without ever cluttering the band’s arrangements; on Uncanney Valley there are just no signs of those characteristics. At worst they’re completely tedious, especially on Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer and Looking, both of which are plagued by yet more of Morrison’s inane lyrics: “You seem to be made of horseshoes / It’s like you’re blessed by fate”. Sometimes they’ll make a left turn mangling an already boring song even further – White Collar White Trash seems devoid of ideas, confirming this with its noisy trainwreck of a bridge, seemingly culled from a completely different song.

On the better tracks (Invisible and Mexico City Christmas) they’re a little more inventive than your average indie rock band; generally it’s difficult to finish D-Plan’s sentences, and that’s about as far as I can praise this album. Both of these songs have the feel of Emergency & I tracks, but their eccentricities are toned noticeably down, obviously lacking the insight that made D-Plan’s golden age so special. To compare Invisible to Emergency & I’s The City is to exemplify the oft-repeated “show don’t tell” rule – the latter is about isolation, and fantasising about slipping away, compared to Invisible’s unsubtle chorus: “Invisible, yeah that's me / If you look then you'll see right through me”. I’m no closer to working out the significance of the title of Uncanney Valley or its irritating mis-spelling, but it’s more disappointing that the Dismemberment Plan never gave me a reason to care.