Uncanney Valley, the Dismemberment Plan’s first album in 12 years, is the sound of a group at ease with themselves and their legacy. They’re still an emo band, still confessional, still relatable in their open-diary sincerity, but middle age seems to have broadened frontman Travis Morrison’s lyrical scope. While songs like “Ellen and Ben,” from 2001’s aptly titled Change, were more insular character studies of the way his friends’ lives impacted his own, the new material offers wider, more societal commentaries. “You hit the spacebar enough/And cocaine comes out,” Morrison sings on the opening track, “No One’s Saying Nothing,” calling out social-media addicts, while on “White Collar White Trash,” he turns his wry vitriol toward successful businessmen who can’t seem to keep it in their pants. The band is in top form throughout: “Invisible” rocks hard, drummer Joe Easley’s cymbal-splashed beats and the repetition of sampled strings giving the song a dark, anxious pulse, while the sentimental “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer,” a posthumous paean to Morrison’s father, showcases Jason Caddell’s guitar chops. So much has been made about the Dismemberment Plan’s evolution that it’s perhaps tempting to focus too intently on finding the new, the exploratory here. But aside from a dozen years’ worth of experience and musical detours subtly informing its nooks and crannies, and a slightly wider breadth of lyrical subject matter, Uncanney Valley could have been released right on the heels of Change. It’s an album that, smartly, neither embraces the past as empty nostalgia nor ignores the events of the past 12 years.
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