On Thursdays we review albums that are considered “classic”. This week we are reviewing Emergency & I, the 1999 album from the Washington D.C. indie band The Dismemberment Plan, a game changing album for indie music.
Growing up can be a neurotic experience. You wake up one day, and you’re in a crappy one bedroom apartment by yourself, late for work. Cursing yourself, you scramble out of bed, throw your clothes on and jump into your deteriorating 96’ Geo hatchback. You spill coffee on lap and it stains your new pants, screaming more obscenities. The Geo takes 2 minutes to start, the radio is broken, you somehow cut your leg on something and now it’s bleeding, and you’ve been lovesick for months to the point of nausea. That cute girl from the record store you fell hard for hasn’t responded to your texts for months, your boss calls you screaming “where the f*ck are you?”, and now you’re a complete wreck. Urban life can be a drag.
Of course, it’s all part of life. That being said, it can be comforting to know that there is a soundtrack for the nervy, awkward, young adult trying to figure life out and survive it’s struggles. This is why Emergency & I exists; Pinkerton for everyday life and social situations. It’s a work of writhing urgency and one of such reliability that it never gets tiring. Every sound is meant to paint a portrait of existential, crippling anxiety, dread, self-loathing, the need for love, wanderlust, and just trying to get the fuck out of certain situations alive. Not too many post-hardcore albums can create an actual world to get lost in, if any others at all. In other words, this is the sound of making a huge deal out of everything, and it sounds absolutely gorgeous.
In Emergency & I, DC’s The Dismemberment Plan are playing their instruments like their lives depends on it. You can imagine these guys thrashing about in a small room, constantly bumping into walls and knocking over stuff. Synths squiggle, guitars and basses stutter, drums pace at odd time signatures, and vocalist Travis Morrison has nervous breakdowns with an endless stream of quotable lyrics. Frankly, I can relate to the rapid impulses and awkward outlook present in this album, as it’s one of the few ones that could compare to my day to day endeavors. It’s to the point that you need this album to survive.
‘A Life of Possibilities’ sets the tone for the entire album. “You’re growing queasy with a sense of despair.” Simple enough quote, but this quote extends through the length of Emergency & I so well that it sounds like a movie. Just by looking at the album artwork you can get a sense of what it’ll sound like. It looks like an abstract mess, but it’s one hell of a beautiful mess. ‘Memory Machine’ sounds like a car crash, with the chorus peaking into the brisk joy ride into the cover’s sunset right before the accident.
‘What Do You Want Me To Say?’ is the despair associated with the thought of losing touch with certain people. “I lost my membership card to the human race” is pure brilliance to the concept of being socially alienated in today’s day and age. Even though this album was released back in 1999, lyrics like these just get more true with time. ‘Spider in the Snow’ tries to calm the album down, talking about doing mundane tasks like taking out the trash and such, and this calm continues deceptively into ‘The Jitters’. However, even the calm moments of this album carry anxiety and despair, a damning contrast.
Before too late, ‘I Love a Musician’ puts the album back into full panic mode, with Travis screaming “HERE WE GO AGAIN!!!”. ‘You Are Invited’ contains one of the few heartfelt moment of this record, containing a minimalist beat that builds and suddenly explodes into a beautiful mid-song chorus reminiscent of a surprise party. People are jumping around to the music, confetti falls from the ceiling, balloons bounce everywhere, your best buds and crush are there, and now you feel really good about yourself.
“You are invited by anyone to do anything. You are invited for all time. You are so needed, if you really want to go. You are invited for all time.”
‘Gyroscope’ has to be catchiest song on the record, with a time signature that skips like a broken record as if the song is trying to keep up with itself. It talks about a simple party scenario; a drunk girl tries to make small talk at a party, but feels out of place, a guy nervously navigates a party where he knows no one, etc. ‘The City’ is another heartfelt moment filled with wanderlust in the wake of your crush moving far away. Suddenly, the city you live in becomes the loneliest place in the world, and you wish that the wind would just pick you up and carry you away. ‘Girl O’ Clock’ is a frantic cry of sexual frustration, with Travis Morrison comedically saying that he is going to die if he doesn’t get laid. The tempo is so frantic that the song almost destroys itself, and is the most intense song here.
‘8 1/2 Minutes’ talks about how while the whole could be ending, there is a strange joy about it as you self-loathe. “Fucking beautiful is what it is.” The record finishes with ‘Back And Forth’, the perfect ending. It contains a stream of conscious jumble of words that tries to best justify the mess it started and make something out of it. Even if the future is uncertain and seems bleak, it tries to make peace with wherever it is. “You will always be my hero, even if I never see you again.”
Emergency & I warrants a perfect rating solely due to how much certain people need it, making it’s replay value very high. This is an album for freaking out about making the wrong moves with a girl, feeling socially awkward, getting wasted, partying, saying goodbye forever, not getting laid, getting fired, getting evicted, etc. If you have ever felt existential dread in the face of simple, mundane tasks, please listen to this record. If you’ve ever been heartbroken or feel like your gonna lose your mind, please listen to this record. Just listen to this record regardless. You probably need it as much as I do, if not more.