The Dismemberment Plan
Fri, November 28
Doors: 8:00 pm9:30 Club
The Dismemberment Plan - (Set time: 10:00 PM)
In 2003, if you told the members of The Dismemberment Plan that ten years later they would not only be releasing a new album, but their best record to date, there’s no way they would have believed you. Since forming in Washington, D.C. in 1993, the band has released four highly acclaimed full-lengths, toured the world many times over, and become one of the most well respected—and indefinable—acts in indie rock. But the past decade has seen their members exploring other areas both inside and outside of music, and even embracing adulthood. However, along the way something funny happened: They reunited three years ago to play some shows to support the reissue of 1999's Emergency & I, and realized their most potent magic had yet to be bottled.
"We never psyched ourselves out and thought, ‘NOW we're making a Plan record," explains guitarist Jason Caddell. "It was more like stay calm and play on," he continues with a laugh. These sessions between the band—which also includes guitarist/vocalist Travis Morrison, bassist Eric Axelson and drummer Joe Easley—resulted in a collection of songs that are inspired because they weren't burdened by any expectations, allowing them to retain the fire of their nascent recordings while entering a fresh sonic aura. "We weren't going to get anything good unless we could trick ourselves into staying in that place where it was creativity for its own sake," Morrison elaborates. "It was a real blessing and opportunity to be in that space again without thinking we had a product to deliver."
To be fair, The Dismemberment Plan never thought of their music as a commodity, despite the fact that they have been handpicked to tour with Pearl Jam and shared the stage with peers Death Cab For Cutie on the co-headlining Death And Dismemberment Tour, among other career milestones. "Our goals have always been more abstract than sales and statistics," Caddell explains. That statement is confirmed by the fact that in the years since their hiatus the members have gone on to thrive in their respective creative and intellectual fields while still keeping music an active presence in their lives.
Case in point, Axelson has been teaching in public schools and playing in various bands, including Maritime; Morrison worked for The Huffington Post and The Washington Post, and now is the president of his own start-up in addition to singing in church choirs; Caddell has been a freelance audio engineer for corporate and political events ranging from presidential elections to the G8 Summit at Camp David, all the while playing on and producing records for his friends and bandmates; and Easley received a degree in Aerospace Engineering, and now works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on a robotic satellite servicing program in addition to playing with Axelson in Statehood.
Uncanney Valley was recorded by longtime collaborator J. Robbins (Jawbreaker, The Promise Ring) at his Baltimore Studio, Magpie Cage, and mixed by Paul Q. Kolderie (Pixies, Radiohead), and the result is an album that maintains The Dismemberment Plan's unique sound while simultaneously allowing them to open up and expand on the foundation of their celebrated back catalog. Produced by Jason Caddell and The Dismemberment Plan, this is the first time in the band's history that they didn't use an outside producer. "When I listen to this record it's hard for me to believe we're a bunch of 40 year olds now," Morrison admits. "It sounds like the musical heat is stronger than ever.”
This love of music is as evident in the buoyant groove of the Jackson Browne- inspired "Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer" as it is on the sweetly syncopated, electronically augmented rocker "Mexico City Christmas." "Generally we have deeply broad taste in a lot of different types of music, and it's not a fashion statement. It's a genuine heartfelt appreciation, and I think you can hear that in our music," Caddell responds when asked about the colorful sonic palette illustrated on the album. Whether Morrison is flexing his R&B chops on the quirky, catchy “Waiting” or approaching the concept of a love song in a new and effective context on the quasi-ballad “Lookin,” Uncanney Valley has moments certain to captivate both new listeners and longtime fans of the band.
The Dismemberment Plan's personal growth is mirrored in Morrison's lyrics, which center on his move to Brooklyn. "I wrote the kind of lyric stories I wanted to hear that I just wasn't getting from other artists," he explains. And even when he’s exploring isolation on the synth-driven “Invisible,” the songs retain a level of honesty that’s impossible to fake.
This spirit of collaboration paired with the members' diverse taste and life experiences are what make Uncanney Valley such an enthralling listen—and although the group remains unsure what the future holds for them, the most important thing right now is that they exist here in the moment. "We're very much taking things one step at a time, but I will say that at this juncture the excitement level is high. So, whatever comes next comes next," Caddell summarizes.
Ultimately, whether the members are controlling robots on a space station or performing live with an enthusiasm that transcends age, The Dismemberment Plan are a special band, and Uncanney Valley solidifies that as times change and tides shift, this will always hold true.
Priests - (Set time: 9:00 PM)
What is at stake in the seduction of Kansas? Like a gavel or hammer, the question rattles across the second LP from Washington, D.C. rock iconoclasts Priests: The Seduction of Kansas. Seduction evokes pleasure, sex. Divorced from romance, seduction is a tactic of manipulation, a ploy in the politics of persuasion. Kansas is a compass. As the journalist Thomas Frank explored in his 2004 book What’s the Matter With Kansas?, the ideological sway of Kansas has often predicted the direction in which the U.S. will move—whether leaning socialist in the 1800s or going staunchly conservative in the 1980s. “There’s something sinister about the idea of seducing a whole state,” says drummer Daniele Daniele. “You’re clearly up to something. Why would you do it?” The title—like Priests—is a moving target, probing questions about the realities and mythologies of America in 2019 without giving in to easy answers.
Entering their eighth year as a band, Priests—Daniele, vocalist Katie Alice Greer, and guitarist G.L. Jaguar—remain an inspired anomaly in modern music. A band on its own label, Sister Polygon Records—jolting the greater music world with early releases by Downtown Boys, Snail Mail, Sneaks, and Gauche—they are living proof that it is still possible to work on one’s own terms, to collectively cultivate one’s own world. Bred in punk, Priests play rock’n’roll that is as intellectually sharp as it is focused on pop’s thrilling pleasure centers, that is topical without sloganeering. The high-wire physicality of their live shows, the boldness of their Barbara Kruger-invoking visual statements, their commitment to cultural, political, and aesthetic critique—it’s all made Priests one of the most exciting bands of their generation, subversive in a literal sense, doing things you would not expect.
With fireworks of noise and arresting melodies both, Priests’ 2017 debut LP Nothing Feels Natural was heralded as a modern classic of “post-punk”—but Priests feels urgently present. If Nothing Feels Natural was like an album-length ode to possibility, then The Seduction of Kansas exists within the adventurous world its predecessor pried open. If Nothing was the reach and conviction of a band pushing beyond itself, willing itself into existence on its own terms, then Kansas stands boldly in the self-possessed space it carved. Its 10 pop songs are like short stories told from uncanny perspectives, full of fire and camp. They make up Priests’ most immediate and musically cohesive record, a bracing leap forward in a catalog full of them.
The path was not easy. Following the amicable departure of bassist Taylor Mulitz (now leading Flasher), Priests was faced with a challenge not unlike “sawing off the fourth leg of a chair, and rebuilding it to balance on three.” The challenge was difficult, something not unexpected for an egalitarian group of strong personalities. They had to rethink the interlocking dynamic of their band. “It’s almost like the version of Priests that made Nothing Feels Natural really died; we didn’t have time to grieve about that and also had to build a Frankenstein’s monster of a new version of Priests,” Greer says. The uncertainty brought a kind of freedom.
With nothing to lose, Priests took risks: leaning into a realm of greater poetic license, of surrealism, menace, and pleasure. Jaguar reimagined his guitar playing, inspired by Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and his late-1970s guitarists like Carlos Alomar, Adrian Belew, and Robert Fripp. Greer embraced lyrics “that felt intuitively fun and good” and tried to shed anxieties about being misunderstood. Daniele moved towards more easeful rhythms, contributes a spoken-word interlude, and sings three songs. Meditating on the U.S., they arrived at sinister themes, sketching out characters who acknowledge their power over others, and questioning (sometimes by virtue of ignoring) why it sometimes feels good to be bad.
Priests enlisted two primary collaborators in writing, arranging, and recording The Seduction of Kansas. After playing cello, mellotron, and pedal steel guitar on Nothing Feels Natural, multi-instrumentalist Janel Leppin (Mellow Diamond, Marissa Nadler) returned to breathe air into Priests’ demos, serving as primary bassist and a fourth songwriting collaborator on The Seduction of Kansas. The band also found a kindred spirit in producer John Congleton (Angel Olsen, St. Vincent), recording for two weeks at his Elmwood Studio in Dallas. It marked the band’s first time opening up their creative work to collaborate with someone outside of their DC-based community—a decidedly less hermetic approach. Priests found a third collaborator in bassist Alexandra Tyson, who has also joined the touring band. The songwriting process found the group once again analyzing the textures and scopes of albums as aggressive as they are introspective, like Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, Portishead’s Third, and Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral.
Greer remains one of rock’s most evocative lyricists. The Seduction of Kansas stitches images of USA mythology—Superman and Dorothy, cowboys and Hollywood, politicians and news anchors, Pizza Hut, White Castle, Applebees, Dollar Tree, The Last Picture Show, the Koch Brothers, airplanes, cornfields, the Macy’s Day Parade, strip mall—in vivid, novelistic detail. “I am fascinated with myth-making,” Greer says of her lyrics, mentioning a pointed interest in “the manufactured mythology of Americanism,” in the stories—true, false, erased, exaggerated—our elected leaders and society tell us, the ways we “communicate our values and our national sense of self.” The filmmaker Adam Curtis—who has used some of his documentaries to “talk about how neo-conservatism has successfully seduced the American heart and mind” through righteousness, image, metaphor—was an influence. “In a macro sense, I think if we, as sociologists of our own culture and nation, try to observe and understand these symbols and mythologies that have largely informed our national sense of self, maybe it would be helpful right now, in trying to figure out what the fuck are we going to do about this awful mess we’ve made (of the country, of the world),” Greer adds.
This oblique Americana feels appropriate at a perilous time in the U.S., when nothing feels logical. It is especially present on the album’s psychological thriller of a title track, which is Priests’ purest pop song to date, dark and glittering—though there is still something fantastically off about it, decadent and uneasy at once. Illustrating Kansas’ potent place in our national imagination—as well as “a chorus of whoever is trying to persuade the social consciousness of Kansas”—Greer sings brilliantly of a “bloodthirsty cherub choir” in a cornfield, of “a drawn out charismatic parody of what a country through it used to be,” beckoning that “I’m the one who loves you.” The album’s lead single, “The Seduction of Kansas” does what Priests do best: They make us think, stir us with complexity.
“Jesus’ Son” and “I’m Clean,” both singles, do the same. They feature dark, complicated protagonists—like descendents of Kathy Acker tales—and explore the reality that one can (and often does) swing wildly between the poles of oppression and domination. Amid the vicious, cool air of “I’m Clean,” Daniele’s narrator is a murderess who emerges from a societally-induced period of dissociative behavior to seek revenge and fulfill her fantasies. On the sardonic, Lou Reed-invoking “Jesus’ Son,” Greer presents another unsavory character—a man “who thinks he is special enough to justify doing something selfish and awful,” who proclaims “I’m young and dumb and full of cum… I think I want to hurt someone.” Priests see a connection between these evil personalities and the “obnoxious, unwarranted confidence” of “American swagger.”
Elsewhere on The Seduction of Kansas, Priests’ buoyant sound boils with truths about the perverse tyranny of history. “Texas Instruments” (inspired by David Byrne’s True Stories) and “Good Time Charlie” (inspired by Charlie Wilson’s War) meditate on the violence of colonialism. The breezy “68 Screen,” sung by Daniele, is about feeling tokenized, while the spectral three-part harmonies on “Ice Cream” muse on the sweet taste of anger unleashed. “YouTube Sartre” sprung from a quiet moment, staring at the philosopher on screen: “There’s no way to overthrow the bourgeoisie/Except tossing a hand grenade into your society,” Greer sings. And the riffy closing banger “Control Freak” is like Priests’ insurrectionary Bodies era, but better—a grotesque, funhouse depiction of a power-tripping person at war with the two sides of themselves.
While Priests mention, as usual, an exciting array of references—from the Chris Kraus essay “Pay Attention” and the Eileen Myles anthology The New Fuck You to The Twilight Zone—they hesitate to delineate it all. Greer sees that as a pro-art gesture. “I believe very deeply in the healing, sustaining, and transformative power of art, both on a personal and societal level,” she says. “It is essential to our wellbeing, and it is constantly under attack in so many big and small ways. These days, people are trying to justify the utility of art by explaining that it’s educational, or teaching morals or values. People want to pick apart art and media and figure out if it is saying something Important or if it is Problematic and deserves to be Cancelled. In the USA we don’t have a public education system we can be proud of, we raise people to be obedient rather than think critically. As a result, we put this bizarre expectation on our media, entertainment, and art to educate us, and sometimes we even decide that if art isn’t performing this task, it isn’t really worthwhile. That’s a horribly anti-art attitude to take; I’m super against it. I tried to keep that central to my contributions to this album.” Without offering a mandate in either direction, The Seduction of Kansas asks us to consider these stakes, to consider the consequences of a binary.
In her iconic essay Against Interpretation, the cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote, “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” It’s a line that has informed the aesthetic vocabulary of Priests, who are not handing out answers but still suggest a profound one: In the daily crisis, we need to think our way through. “Art is meant to be incendiary, meant to make you feel and see and enrich your otherwise tepid human existence,” Greer says. “It’s been fun to bring that sensibility to Priests more, to write songs about possibly awful people doing questionable things, to adorn a song with enticing baubles that don’t explain themselves... but, I hope, will seduce the listener closer.”
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001