Today, I received one of my most hotly anticipated albums of the year, the solo album from Travis Morrison
. Former frontman of The Dismemberment Plan
, the D.C rock quartet whom disbanded the band in the summer of 2003 after Travis wanted to pursue a solo career. This is the first offering since that announcement.
Since The Plan broke up, Travis has jammed with Ben Gibbard daily in Seattle only to have sessions never come to fruition, toured the nation with just an acoustic guitar playing bubblegum pop covers, musical theatre and alt rock covers and occasionally playing a song or two that he himself wrote. He wrote long rants on his website that made crazy statements, such as how glam-rocker Brian Eno shaped the rock & roll world. He then assembled a band that only consisted of three keyboardists and two drummers to tour the country with. He also appeared in Entertainment Weekly for his cover of the Ludacris hit “What’s Your Fantasy.” It’s safe to say that one of the most experimental rockers of our time may have hit an all new height in terms of musical and expressive experimentation.
“Travistan” is the sweet fruits of all this experimentation. The album’s 42 minutes pretty much exist to show the incredible amount of directions that Travis Morrison could go musically, and each of them would be brilliant choices. It’s a spinning wheel of musical possibilities. And where oh where will it stop?
Could it be Morrison’s brilliant series of politically charged satire shown in four songs titled “Get Me Off This Coin” with different letters at the end of each song. In one he makes reference to Thomas Jefferson liking his “booty wide,” and, oh lord, I hope you get that one. As well as Morrison’s “Che Guervara Poster,” which speaks out against how the revolutionary icon has now become a 21 dollar shirt at Urban Outfitters, and manages to tell the story of his working class, industry man father. The parallels between the two are a bit shady, but the song is fascinating regardless.
Could it be Morrison’s ironic, hysterical yet pointed and keyboard laden “commentary rockers,” as he provides on “Born in ’72?,” which is a crazy social commentary with an incredibly simple and even more incredibly effective bridge. Or the guitar and synth hilarity yet strangely thought provoking “Song for the Orca” about a topic that only Travis could handle this well…animals wanting to get justice for how they are treated in society. A lion having a daydream about a tourist falling “over the railing” has never been so fantastic.
Could it be Morrison’s acoustic guitar driven pop/rock? Shown on tracks such as “My Two Front Teeth II & III,” which features an incredible drum intro and another classic Morrison penned narrative. As well as “People Die,” a fantastic and quite simple pop song about morbidity.
Or possibly, could it be Morrison’s brooding and beautiful singer/songwriter approach? When some friends of mine and I saw Travis do one of his oddball acoustic shows at The Galaxy Hut in Arlington, Virginia, we all instantly fell in love with the ballad-y “Any Open Door.” The song sounds absolutely fantastic on the album, and along with “Angry Angel,” which features Morrison’s always-unique vocals being backed in a very unique way, by a nine piece string orchestra, they make up for the most emotionally reflective material on the album. Morrison takes his tunes in one final direction with the synth-powered, drum & bass-like hidden track with extremely lo-fi vocals.
“Travistan” has already seen some backlash from the critics (a mixed review from Mix Tape Reviews and in Pitchfork Media’s 0.0 review of the album, they said pretty much opposite of what I just said, “Travistan only allows us to briefly glimpse a series of images and storylines, but makes no effort to help us understand them, or to see them through his eyes”) and I’m thinking that Travis Morrison is probably going to piss off some fans with this album. Yet I love it for the reason they’ll hate it. This is exactly what I love musicians doing…trying something new, taking a huge risk, and succeeding. And boy, is that exactly what this album does for Travis.
Travis turns in his “speak-sing” card (with the exception of the track “Change”) and expands his vocal range much more than he ever has before. He’s thrown in violins, cellos, Moog-synths, more acoustic guitars, multiple keyboard tracks, multiple drum tracks (done masterfully by freelance drummer Jason McGerr, who worked with Death Cab for Cutie in the studio before) he uses dual females to back him up, he uses organs…he goes nuts instrumentally. And it doesn’t once sound like a muddled mess. He is writing with the same sharp satire he did with The Plan, yet I’ll go as far as saying this satire has a new, fresh feeling to it. While some Plan usuals do come through (the video-game like “bloops” and “bleeps”, the urgent, rushed vocals make some cameos), this is a whole new ballgame. Yet its worth noting that "The Word Cop," "Born in '72," "Angry Angel," "People Die" and "Change" were all written to be Dismemberment Plan songs and were performed live with the band prior to their breakup.
“Travistan” is basicially just a sampler for what Travis Morrison could do in his follow-up. Yet, serving up yet another pu pu platter of original music like “Travistan” wouldn’t cause any complaints from me.
The tracklist is as follows:
1: Get Me Off This Coin A
3: Born in '72
4: My Two Front Teeth, Parts 2 and 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 Guevara Poster
11: Word Cop, The
12: Angry Angel
13: Get me Off This Coin D
14: Hidden Track (known as "Represent")
"Travistan" was released on September 28, 2004 on Barsuk Records.