Travis Morrison – All Y’all

Travis Morrison Hellfighters – All Y’all
Barsuk – 4 Stars

2004 found erstwhile Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison releasing his first solo record, Travistan, which was given the deathly 0.0 by Pitchfork.  This roughly amounts to high indie treason; at the height of their powers, the Plan were the P’fork set’s biggest band (in 2002 they did a co-headlining tour with Death Cab for Cutie called the Death and Dismemberment Tour).  By contrast, a Morrison solo show at Twiropa in summer of 2005 netted about thirty paid customers, a far cry from the Plan’s heyday and a likely result of the Pitchfork review.
It’s apparent that Travis Morrison reads his own press.  All Y’all, which consists of songs written shortly after Travistan’s release, is very much a return to form.  Gone are the previous album’s goofy lyrics that Pitchfork took so much umbrage with.  In their stead are stories that are mature without being too serious and keyboards that soar while guitars drag their feet in the dirt.  At times it seems as if Morrison and his band, the Hellfighters, can’t decide if they want to make nerdy snyth-core or traditional DC Dischord punk.  The schizophrenic approach works, and we are left with a record that is not only brushed with mature keys and jagged rhythms, but that is at times just as good as the Plan’s magnum opus, 1999’s Emergency & I (a record which I’ve always thought keeps a foot a bit too deep into Incubus’ territory in its second half).
Love it or hate it, Morrison’s off-kilter vocal performances have long been one his touchstones, and All Y’all is no exception.  The music here matches his voice, stuttering and skipping across rhythms.  Rhythmic electric piano keeps the entire band from losing control and keeps the music listenable. At times he channels Steven Malkmus, the muttering voice not telling stories so much as reluctantly admitting to them.  The tension between Morrison’s voice, the angular guitars, and the calm keys produce a desperate, emotional squall.  It’s that passion – both musical and lyrical – that was apparently missing on Travistan.  The Plan were at their best when they sang about good people in bad places, when the songs were soaked in melancholy with just a dash of hope and the music soared and whined along with them.  On All Y’all, Morrison returns to music that truly matters, music that has staying power and refuses to alienate the listener.  It’s utterly engaging.
The style is particularly winning in album opener “I’m Not Supposed to Like You (But).”  Here the band walks the line between lounge and post-punk, sincerity and cheese.  It’s a theme that sets All Y’all’s tone while also managing to sum up Morrison’s career with the Plan.  Somehow, the entire record feels like a triumph, the sound of a man making music for himself and himself alone.  By the time the Hellfighters chug through “Hawkin’s Rock,” Morrison is cruising along with confidence.
Sure, the record never quite matches the lonesome groans of Emergency’s “The City” or the nauseous off-rhythms of “Gyroscope,” but it’s a far more consistent record than Morrison has produced in the past.  The thirty-five year-old is finally a bit more grown up, certainly more mature than he’s ever been before.  Welcome back, Travis.

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