“The only thing worse than bad memories, is no memories at all” – Travis Morrison, “Spiders In The Snow”
Emergency & I is a legitimately great record. It’s one of those rare, incredibly charitable records that just keeps on giving and giving. Repeat listens reveal so many layers and nuances to each of the songs. Musically, everything seems to work. Eric Axelson’s basslines are genuinely inspiring, so good in their own right that they could carry the songs on their own, and often do. This is offset by Joe Easley’s drumming acting perfectly as Axelson’s foil and sliding effortly between hardcore punk blasts to funky as James Brown beats. The album is very much defined by its razor sharp rhythm section, which keeps everything grounded while Jason Cadell’s guitar and synth parts pad out the sounds to give the album a more ambitious and exploratory feel. This is an album that only this band could have made at this point in their career. There are remnants of the older, more hardcore/dance inflected tracks (‘What Do You Want Me To Say’, ‘You Are Invited’, ‘Girl O’Clock’), but for the most part the band are not shackled to any previous ideas of who they were.
Fortunately though, the band do hold true to one of their key elements, which as The Thin Air’s Stevie Lennox described it, “you’re never more than three quarters of a song away from an absolutely fantastic hook”. With this in mind, there is this kind of strange pleasure when revisiting the album as you try to pinpoint exactly where and when that killer hook is going to drop in. It could be an exasperated howl (‘The City’), a full band four to the floor singalong (‘You Are Invited’) or a uniquely discordant looping guitar back that oscillates seemingly forever (‘Back and Forth’). These musical changes, along with the hooks, keep the album fresh and allows it to become it’s own beast, with it’s own quirks and broken ground. This feeling is felt most prominently in the lyrics.
Emergency & I represents a huge step forward in the maturity of the lyrics. On their previous releases (!, …Is Terrified) the band established themselves as having a reputation for simple, spoon-depth danceable punk songs with hip-hop inflections, irony and none-too-subtle references to older musicians; more of a novelty act than a legitimate musical force. Emergency blasts that out of the water from the word go. Vocalist Travis Morrison keeps only the faintest hint of the sardonic aloofness that carried the previous records and instead opts for a much more soulful and earnest look at how life is at the end of your 20s, at that point when all that had been promised to you ten years ago is a little bit more out of reach and seems to be getting further and further away. The album’s primary focus is isolation, its causes and its various guises. This might be the alienating impact of unchecked ambition (‘Life of Possibilities’), the existential dread of being trapped in the urban cell (‘The City’), or a worryingly accurate treatise on depression (‘The Jitters’).
What Morrison seems to be trying desperately to do is to showcase the various disconnecting factors that, ironically, link us together. He also directs his gaze to loftier ideas such as humanity’s reaction to imminent destruction and the comfort that comes in those final moments (‘8 1/2 Minutes’) and the futility, majesty and complexity of something as basic as going out, meeting someone and never seeing them again from an atomic level up (‘Back and Forth’). What rings true throughout the album is the unending yearning for human connection. There are so many parties and gatherings and yet everything constantly seems to be at arm’s length, to the point where all we can do is surround ourselves with people who we only tangentially know while we keep moving round and round forever in the vain hopes the we can push past these feelings and regain some hint of our former selves (‘Gyroscope’). Ironically, for an album that predates Facebook and social media by nearly half a decade, it captures that sense of isolation and faux connectivity with a deft hand and relative ease.
Following Emergency, the D-Plan would go on to release one more album, 2001’s excellent, introspective Change, before splitting up for the remainder of the decade. In 2010 the band reformed and three years later released the enjoyable yet lacking Uncanney Valley. Emergency casts a very long shadow over the band’s legacy, as it should. While the album may not contain the group’s best song – that would be ‘The Ice of Boston’ from …Is Terrified – it is undeniably the band’s strongest release and a testament to how good the band truly were and are. With this record, the group perfectly captures that moment at the end of the long night out; as bloodshot eyes catch the first morning light, as the aura of the party fades and you’re left with a single question: what the hell do we now? Will Murphy