Indie-rock musicians might be better off without fans, if open relationships with audiences are going to keep spawning clones of The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy, grumbling about what a band "owes" its listeners. In the waning days of Washington D.C. cult act The Dismemberment Plan, singer Travis Morrison spoke plainly about his desire to broaden his sound and flow more diverse influences into the band's ecstatic dance-punk, which provoked online grumbles that he was attempting to turn the Plan into Steely Dan. Recently, while recording his debut solo album Travistan, Morrison posted work-in-progress tracks on his web site, and dealt with subsequent sniping that he's lost it.
In fact, Travistan builds on what Morrison was doing with the last two Dismemberment Plan discs, 2001's airy Change and last year's fractured remix disc A People's History. The new record's four-part "Get Me Off This Coin"—a series of short songs about U.S. presidents—may seem superficially silly, but the playful tone seems to derive from Morrison's liberation from expectations. Travistan stands as a winking kiss-off to anyone who would insist he be intense, or demand that he continue to idealistically merge dance music with DIY emo. Morrison sings songs about obituaries, Sea World rebellions, getting his teeth knocked out, and growing up in the '70s, all with a tossed-off melodicism halfway between solo David Byrne and solo Stephen Malkmus.
Tracks like "Che Guevara Poster" relinquish tight, beat-driven structures in favor of rhythms and melodies that roam a step behind Morrison's distracted, truncated thoughts. But the album's sketchbook quality doesn't preclude entertainment. The R.E.M.-ish drive of "The Word Cop" and the wiggy, tuneful Britpop of "Any Open Door" sound as catchy as much of the Dismemberment Plan catalog. Even Morrison's goofiest lyrics—"I like my nations in constant revolution / and my booty wide"—come off more funny than wince-inducing, so long as listeners hear them in the context of an artist rethinking himself and risking embarrassment in order to see what he can do. Travistan is odd but oddly listenable, with a bright mood sparked by Morrison's spirit of discovery. It's one extended, refreshing "Why not?"