Much like ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, former Dismemberment Plan lead singer Travis Morrison faces the daunting task of detaching himself from the large shadow his juggernaut band cast over the indie rock community. Free from the democratic constraints the Plan imposed upon him, Morrison presents a far more eclectic side of himself than seen on any record prior, and the results were heavily foreshadowed via mp3s on his website during Travistan's production phase. Nevertheless, Plan loyalists are almost guaranteed to scrutinize this album from start to finish, deconstructing it on a microscopic level with a magnifying glass to find any possible reason to complain why Morrison and company called it a day far too soon. The immediate thing that comes through on Travistan that was missing on some of the Plan records is that Morrison sounds like he's having fun experimenting with new sounds and textures (check the Joe Jackson-esque piano playing on "The Word Cop") and not brooding so often. Combined with the added relief of starting clean on a new label with a new backing band (including Death Cab for Cutie's Jason McGuerin) and the freedom to produce without the pressures of making it better than a Dismemberment record, it's instantaneously notable. "Get Me Off This Coin," a folksy series of political interludes sprinkled throughout (which could get tiresome to a few people, but that's what fast-forward buttons were made for), and "Born in '72," which re-creates a live setting with quirky little jabs (and a melodic homage to fellow D.C. residents Fugazi during the breakdown), let the audience know that Morrison is well aware of the pressures and expectations of a solo record. One audience member even slyly asks "Think they'll play 'The City'?," a reference to one of the Plan's well-loved songs. But it's not without fault to say these songs could have been on the next Plan album. The signature video game noises and analog synths are still anchors of the song arrangements, and the inclusion of more electronic-based production only further reinforces the idea that Morrison is just as versatile behind a mixing board and sampler as he is behind a guitar and a vocal mike. Morrison's lyrics have always been a strong element of the Plan's popularity, and here he has never been more creative in his song subjects. A dark and philosophical muse on the mortality of life ("People Die") is followed by a wish for caged zoo animals to rebel against their captors in rather violent ways ("Song for the Orca"). There are also two beautiful moments of quiet introspection in "Any Open Door" and "Angry Angel," and the closest thing to a Ben Gibbard homage with the final, untitled track. Make no bones about it, Morrison is challenging expectations and listeners by stretching his musical boundaries and defying people to come along for the ride through close listening. And those who loved the Plan for the original angle they brought to a near soulless genre will be pleasantly surprised that Morrison is holding his own and staying true to himself.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Rob Theakston