ShuffleLove: Dismemberment Plan – The Face of the Earth, Change, 2001

Each week, Brian Oliu will put his entire playlist on shuffle & write about the first song that pops up.

The Dismemberment Plan was my favorite band in high school. When I say “favorite band in high school,” I mean something entirely different than if I were to say “favorite band,” now. When you are 16 or 17 years old & a music snob like I was, you can’t pick a favorite band that has already been taken off the board: the older, cooler kids, had already taken Fugazi (whom everybody loved), & suddenly it was a rush to claim Washington D.C. post-punk bands before you were left with scouring the Dischord Records back catalogue hoping to find a steady winner. My pick came in late.

However, I really did love the band: they were fun, they were accessible, & they were clever—post-high school graduation, I found myself singing the praises of the band to my college freshmen dorm-mates at Loyola-Maryland. Furthermore, The Dismemberment Plan would often play in Baltimore, & soon I was able to convince a few of them to come with me to a show.

As a result, my “favorite band in high school,” managed to merge into my “favorite band” by my sophomore year of college—when Change came out.

The fact that I associate the band with my high school & college days is a little strange, as the genius behind Travis Morrison’s lyrics tend to speak directly to the post-college sect; the malaise of working a terrible job, the moving away of friends, the death of relationships, loss in general.

This is a loss song, as is most of this album, which was the band’s last hurrah—at least until a surprise reuniting was announced a few months ago: their new album, Uncanney Valley is set to be released mid-October. It’s the second track on the album, & it’s crushing: an almost angelic harp-like chord starts off the song, shortly followed by the great line “As kisses go / it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” which, naturally, sets us up for heartbreak later—in the form of the girl being literally blown from the face of the earth; perhaps my first foray into the concept of magical realism.

Of course, this is all a metaphor for losing touch: to have a relationship with someone & have them drop off the face of the earth—no friends in common, no way to get in touch with them. We all have these moments; for me, it was the friend of a friend of a friend who visited for one night—she got drunk & cried on my shoulder, which, of course, is like kryptonite serendipity for an over-emotional 19-year-old. Even in the age of Google, it is still possible to disappear completely; the mystery grows. While Morrison goes onto say, “it’s not like we were married / it was three or four months” it’s still strange to have contact with someone & have them be erased entirely.

It was on a drive down to Baltimore with college friends to see The Dismemberment Plan on their Change tour, I received a phone call informing me that my cousin had suddenly passed away. In the weeks & months after, I felt myself growing old—from that moment, my life would exist in two eras: pre & post his death.

Perhaps The Dismemberment Plan, “my favorite band in high school,” prepared me for that feeling of loss—that someone can literally disappear, that somehow, the universe knew that I would need this post-college advice earlier than I ever expected; that loss would come to me in its truest form.

After his death, I tried to find people from my past to tell them about what had happened; sometimes it was people that we both knew through summers of flirting with girls in Internet chatrooms, sometimes it was just someone new that I could share sadness with in order to help dilute whatever new-found emptiness was hollowing my guts. This song, as well as music in general, serves as a type of echo: something sent into the vastness to receive a response. With that mentality comes a strange belief: that if someone we have lost touch with answers back, then on a night where anything is possible, it is possible for anything, anything at all, to come back to us, even if it is just for one chord.


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