I have to hand it to Pitchfork on this one. Much as I dislike their site in general (I prefer more modest reviewers with open minds who keep their focus on the music), they really went out on a limb when they declared this album, the band's third (I've yet to hear the first two), one of the 100 best of the '90s even before it was officially released. I wouldn't go so far as to call Emergency & I a masterpiece, but there's a decent chance it would make the bottom rungs of my list as well. Of course, I doubt I'll ever make such a list, but if I did the reason it might not make my list is that it's awkward at times and not without a filler track or two, making it more of a grower than a love at first listen. Leader Travis Morrison's somewhat plain sounding vocals don't add much, either, but his clever lyrics certainly do, and it's the music - often sparse and slightly dissonant yet rarely unapproachable and usually highly melodic - that matters most. The band is often compared to the Talking Heads, and I can see why, as their tense, herky jerky rhythms and strange time signatures are at times reminiscent of that band. However, the Dismemberment Plan have other influences as well, often attempting the angular guitar inventiveness of Television or Gang Of Four, while quirky new wave keyboards mark many tunes as well. Actually, this is a surprisingly diverse album that often brings many bands to mind, giving me that really good alternative rock radio station I'm still waiting for. As examples, "A Life Of Possibilities" is highlighted by Television-esque guitars before a brief interjection by the Archers Of Loaf, who also seem to appear on "You Are Invited." Damn it if the chorus of "What Do You Want Me To Say?" isn't a dead ringer for Built To Spill, "Spider In The Snow" has an ambient synth melody that Moby would kill for, and "Back And Forth" seemingly crosses Beck with The Sea and Cake. Songs don't get much more dissimilar than the dirge-like "The Jitters" and "I Love A Magician," whose churning power drill riffs are dizzying, while "Gyroscope" is another excellent example of the band's knack for both singable choruses and memorable lyrics ("happiness is such hard work ..."). Still, most of these songs are very good rather than great, and given the effort required for a full appreciation I'm not surprised that this album never found a significant audience beyond hipsters and critics. I'm glad that I own it, though, as its impressive array of influences makes for an extremely satisfying listen, as the Dismemberment Plan have a knack for sounding like many of your favorite alternative bands while managing a distinct identity of their own ("The City" is pure Dismemberment Plan, for example), which is no small feat.
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