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The Dismemberment Plan

Though they've been churning out expertly crafted records and delivering electrifying live performances since 1993, Washington D.C.'s The Dismemberment Plan remains, for the most part, out of the spotlight. The band flirted with the major label scene, spending just enough time on Interscope Records to release one EP (the now out-of-print The Ice of Boston) and record a full-length before scurrying away unscathed after the major-label shakeup of 1999. The Dismemberment Plan brought that full-length, 1999's Emergency & I, back to the open arms of DeSoto Records, which had also released 1995's ! and 1997's ...Is Terrified.

As fate would have it, Emergency & I, abruptly catapulted the band to celebrity status on the underground rock circuit, generating critical acclaim and numerous sold-out shows, appearing on countless best-of-the-year lists, and even earning The Plan an invitation to open for Pearl Jam. A flash in the pan? Bite your tongue! No, the band's next album, coyly titled Change, found them on the move yet again, largely abandoning the propulsive, overdriven post-punk that had gotten people so excited about Emergency & I. Instead, The Dismemberment Plan went for something a little more restrained, a bit more mild-mannered, a bit prettier, indulging in some light funk rhythms and some plaintive pop hooks in making perhaps the most assured and graceful album of their career.

And in this way, The Dismemberment Plan soldiers on, making the kind of music they want to make -- intelligent, smart, catchy, and more difficult to pin down than a bar of soap in a hot shower. Since their very first release (1994's "Can We Be Mature" seven-inch/cassette on Alcove), their music has sparkled with a little something extra. Maybe it's the attention to detail, the varied influences, or the snotty intelligence; whatever the ingredient, it's magical, imbuing all the band's songs with subtle elegance. Singer/guitarist Travis Morrison delivers wry, often scathing one-liners with natural ease and intuitive delivery, guitarist Jason Caddell adds angular depth, bassist Eric Axelson does sonic gymnastics without ever missing a trick, and drummer Joe Easley lays down complex polyrhythms that hold the lot together.

The Dis Plan's songs seethe with a gritty urgency highlighted by the band's creative liberties with time signatures and structural form. Keyboards and samplers play an important role in many of the band's songs, but their buzz and hum blends seamlessly with the propulsive rock chug from the guitars, bass, and drums. The result is remarkably melodic, groovy post-punk emo that will make you shake your tail...or at least nod your head.

"It's So You," from ...Is Terrified, is an almost jazzy post-punk anthem that hints at D.C. luminaries like Fugazi and Jawbox while retaining a distinct Dis Plan flavor. "The Things That Matter," from !, is an aggressive frenzy-inducing rocker, a head-on collision between relentless guitar, complex rhythm, and operatic vocals. "You Are Invited," from Emergency & I, features an eerie canned keyboard rhythm that gives way to a stunning full-band break in a flourish of powerful rock energy. The creepily pretty "Superpowers," from Change, muses on voyeurism and ESP over tense keyboard trills and polyrhythmic percussion. All are great examples of how the The Dismemberment Plan does things a little bit differently -- and a little bit better -- than just about any other band.