Washington, D.C.'s the Dismemberment Plan have always felt like a band in constant evolution. !, their first album, was a scatterbrained post-punk freak-out with brilliant moments of melody peeking through; their follow-up, The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified, refined that melody and blended it seamlessly with their angular catharsis. Their third release, Emergency & I, saw the Plan infuse their music with the disparate funk and soul undercurrents that always bubbled just below the surface, and they garnered widespread critical and commercial praise on an underground scale. It's only fitting, then, for the Dismemberment Plan to pull an about face and refocus their musical spasms and manic energy toward quiet introspection and even deeper soul on their fourth record. The aptly titled Change showcases a band testing themselves by going down an untravelled road while still maintaining their identity. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Travis Morrison has called it a "night album," and with its somber guitars and pulsing keyboards, it's tailor-made for long, lonely walks under orange streetlights or melancholy evenings spent stargazing from a bedroom. Indeed, heartbreak and loss recur as themes throughout, from the plaintive, ambient "Automatic" to the apocalyptic depression of "Time Bomb." Travis Morrison's lyrics, consistently the best and most innovative in modern rock, plumb the depths of his own experience to embody the emotional cuts and bruises that everyone has felt. In "Come Home," Morrison copes with a breakup by begging his lover to "Come home/I cannot remember why you left/And I'd rather be happy than right this time." Alternately, in "Time Bomb," he vows revenge, claiming, "I am a time bomb and I lay forgotten at the bottom of your heart/I'm fine/Ticking away the years/'Til I blow your world apart," but he allows us to glimpse the pain beneath the anger with the final lyric, "I am a lost soul, and I send out a sickened light for anyone to see, a cry for help." At his best, Morrison achieves a brilliant sort of meta-poetry within the modern constraints of a rock song, and each track bristles with too many lyrical golden nuggets to mention. Instrumentally, the Plan has never been stronger; Morrison and Jason Caddell's guitars snarl and tremble on the paranoia-fueled "Secret Curse," and bassist Eric Axelson can morph to any shade between a rubbery, loping bounce and a tight, aggressive bite. Drummer Joe Easley skitters and bops throughout, and his live drum-and-bass performance on "The Other Side" is a rhythmic marvel. The group employs keyboards in dynamic ways that other bands can only hope to aspire to; part of this dynamism and variation likely stems from the band's rotating keyboard duties (Axelson, Morrison, and Caddell all take turns). They give the funky, springy "Ellen and Ben" extra kick with blips and squiggles that recall vintage video games, and the beautiful "Superpowers" is built around a soft, trilling keyboard riff. It's difficult to chart the Dismemberment Plan's next move; their boundless creativity is their only fence. They could turn down an entirely new musical path, or they could always revisit their equally brilliant old territory. Either way, listeners are in for an original musical experience.
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AllMusic Review by Ted Alvarez