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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Travis Morrison Hellfighters
All Y'All

Rating: 9.2/10 ?

August 21, 2007
Speaking personally, over the course of the past three years no album has been as primed for reviews as Travis Morrison and his Hellfighters' All Y'All. Oh, I've been eager to hear it, too, as I have known the songs to be fantastic for over a year, since Morrison's new band debuted them at the World Café Live in Philadelphia. The most free-flowing funk of the ex-Dismemberment Plan leader's career, complete with live congas and squirting 80s Casios, white music hasn't been this knotted up since, well, when David Byrne was still art-school rather than art-rock. But even though I haven't heard more than two records this good so far this year, I'm way more interested in the response to All Y'All in the wake of the widely dismissed Travistan, Morrison's first solo outing. I don't consider myself reactive to hype; if anyone thinks the most self-aware refugee of emo (or late 90s alt-rock, period) has fallen off, that's their problem.

Pitchfork Media's infamous 0.0 review of Travistan was chilling [and absurd] in effect. Some stores actually refused to stock the record, and most seemingly joined the dogpile without actually hearing the record. I thought it sounded like a perfectly logical extension of his D-Plan work, and would've loved to hear the alternate ending, had the original Dismemberment Plan versions of most Travistan tracks been released and if the reaction would've been different.

We might get to find out yet. Except for "Catch Up," which stubbornly refuses to stay in one genre, rap included, All Y'All is a definite recession to "people" music, both lyrically and musically, after the admittedly insular Travistan. While he seemed annoyed to have to spell out for people that the Travistan's "My Two Front Teeth" was a 9/11 elegy, here Morrison sings with relief and earned clarity. So at very least, no one having trouble rocking out to this will get the feeling he's playing smartass.

As has already been pointed out, the driving, simplistic "I'm Not Supposed to Like You (But)" opens All Y'All on a note more than similar to his old band's "Sentimental Man" (from Change). The opener is followed by one of Morrison's most straightforward tracks ever, the muscular "As We Proceed." The frantic nervousness of his old band gone, his new power brings to mind Living Colour at their early '90s peak: no weird time changes or intergalactic drum fills. Just fuzz bass, handclaps and a wall of rhythmic push behind a typically frantic vocal. Never one to shy away from hitching his postpunk indie horse to his favorite pop sounds, here Morrison has finally made his version of a straight-up R&B album; love and relationships and sex are all over the lyrics (not to mention constant hints of an affinity for black women, unless that's supposed to be a joke), and the music departs from synth-blurt funk-rock only on the irony-free (maybe?) slow jam "East Side of the River."

To be completely fair and honest, the Dismemberment Plan were, for all practical purposes, a nearly impossible act to follow, even for its own members. Plan purists will rightfully miss Joe Easley's math-defying drum inventions, but the Hellfighters aren't shabby at all for where Morrison and his songwriting are at this stage. His singing has actually improved, presumably from his recent choir membership: check out the tonsil flourish that sends out "Just Didn't Turn Me On," and the next track, where Morrison sounds just as comfortable screaming like the postpunker of ten years ago and which also channels his hormonally neurotic youth again ("The nurses are hot/ but they're black and I'm not/ and that's how it goes"). And the tone's hardly that serious for an "adult" record; there seems to be a running gag about apple pie, along with a nonchalant ode to names he just likes ("Alexandra Bernard" is "so humble yet hard").

It is perhaps telling that the best songs on this near-flawless groove album are usually the kindest; the plain-spoken settling plea "Hawkins' Rock," and "Churchgoer," maybe the calmest love triangle song ever. On the exceptionally melodic latter, Morrison sighs, "I love the girl who loves you, too/ Not more and not less, just different," and sounds like he's too grown-up for this dating bullshit, stupefied and unable to comprehend. His tone quavers with a realism that can't be faked. It's an emotional high point to match "The City" or "Ellen and Ben," in his canon. A few tracks later, when he gets up the nerve to fish for love all over again at record's end, on "Saturday Night," the dude has style: Lil' Jon-esque drum machines would've made Interpol's "No I In Threesome," a hell more palatable.

Funny, honest, and for once moving in all the same direction, All Y'All is another major achievement in a career full of them, no matter how many purists deny the inevitable maturation of their favorite fringe artists. Maybe the punks themselves don't want to have to face the rigors of aging, like when Travistan's unabashed "People Die" thrust the ugly truth in their faces. Or maybe melodic smarts will never be cool without the stylish bent of off-beat anxiety-punk (I just want to know why Ian Mackaye's less lively Evens are exempt from this criticism). Trends will shift, but All Y'All finds Travis Morrison as insightful and vital as he ever was with the Dismemberment Plan, and leaves at least one critic eagerly awaiting his country and western opus.

Reviewed by Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other reviews by Dan Weiss



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