What happens when you're in a rock band that shifts the indie rock paradigm to something more daring and more, well, explosive? You get a lot of fans, a lot of copycats, relative fame, and, ultimately, you build expectations. Then you get some uninformed rock reviewer attempting to review the main songwriter's first solo outing without mentioning or comparing it to the artist's previous work, as if the new solo outing is somehow self-contained and should be critiqued as such; a self-gratifying, arrogant (yes, arrogant) attempt by music writers, to say the least. Absurdity! Context is everything. Those types of reviewers, I call him Joel Ramsy and her Sally Flow, are only trying to make their jobs easier.
This is Travis Morrison (say hi, Travis!), former singer/guitarist/songwriter of the extremely influential Dismemberment Plan, and Travistan is his foray into solo songwriting. More akin to Self than Talking Heads, the 14 songs on Travistan make good use of keyboards, guitars, samples, and quirky (but often political) lyrics into a much more light-hearted, often cheesy exploration into melodic music. And let's face it, this is no spontaneous coincidence. Travis has written music in D-Plan mode exhaustively for over a decade, so an album that deviates from his normal repertoire, chock full of his post-D-Plan influences, is surely to be expected.
Consequently, the elements that made Dismemberment Plan so engaging are glaringly absent (which is, in fact, a good thing -- if you want D-Plan, listen to Emergency & I). Instead of in-your-face intricacy and complex rhythms, Travistan displays a much more restrained complexity that doesn't jump up and down for attention; and replacing the innovative vocal lines are cloying melodies that never seem to end. Instead what's perhaps most discernible are the elements that have characterized Morrison over the past couple years (as far as reading his online diary). Travistan, then, is very much a result of his love for pop music, lyrically for his critique of so-called liberals and the political climate in general, and, well, Death Cab for Cutie. In fact, "My Two Front Teeth, Part 2" is perhaps the best Ben Gibbard impression I've ever heard, which is simultaneously absurd and embarrassing.
The album does, however, have many interesting moments that are definitely trademark Travis. "Change" is an especially delightful pop ditty that showcases Travis' remarkable ear for idiosyncratic melodies and unique rhythms, a trait that has continued to characterize Travis since the Plan's first album, !. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Travistan is what Travis has to say. Ranging from politics to social critique, while retaining a certain degree of introspective reflection and piles of off-beat, asinine humor, Morrison obviously worked long and hard on the lyrics. Though the delivery this time around is a bit too sugary and preachy for my tastes (not to mention a bit annoying at times), there's no doubt that Travis is continuing the quirky lyrical ventures he sought throughout his career with the Dismemberment Plan.
Ultimately, Travis has lost his "edge." But maybe he didn't want to convey "edge," whatever the hell that means. The only thing apparent is that he's writing music for his hedonistic self, and no amount of D-Plan billet-doux yearnings will ever change that. For that, I respect what Travis has created and can appreciate the album as such. But that doesn't mean I have to necessarily like it. If Travis is content on foregoing his version of indie rock refinement for a watered-down, inconsistent venture into pop music, that stresses danceable, entertainment value over artistic credibility, that's totally fine by me, because, well, it's not up to me. Besides, refinement is culturally relative and artistic credibility is an illusion. So, preach on Travis, but don't be surprised if your fanbase becomes more alienated than when you told them you actually thought the U.S. cared about the Kurds in Iraq or when you said Brian Eno invented modern music.
1. Get Me Off This Coin A
3. Born in '72
4. My Two Front Teeth, Pts. 2 - 3
5. Get Me Off This Coin B
6. People Die
7. Song for the Orca
8. Any Open Door
9. Get Me Off This Coin C
10. Che Guerva Poster
11. The Word Cop
12. Angry Angel
13. Get Me Off This Coin D