First Look: Travis Morrison – All Y’All

I once read a Plan-era interview in which Travis Morrison was asked what songs were guilty pleasures. I’ve always admired his response: “I don’t do guilty pleasures. I like what I like. That’s that.”

On the eve of the release of All Y’all, Morrison’s second solo effort, this quote pops to mind for two reasons. First: I don’t do guilty pleasures. I like the Dismemberment Plan and Travistan. That’s that.

Second: You’ll understand – maybe even like – Morrison’s work if you keep in mind his tendency to be uncompromising, unembarassed of himself, particularly in lyrics. The blow easiest to strike against the Travis oeuvre is that it’s openly self-indulgent; if you can’t accept the self-indulgence at the heart of the music, forget connecting with the albums.

All Y’all is self-indulgent, top-to-bottom. [Continue reading…]

Morrison puts the listener through a crucible of pitifully honest and silly lyrics – for instance, in “As We Proceed”: “It was hard to imagine / places where my nerdy ass could fit in.” But stringing together this and other oddball lines, we can begin to imagine his face when he encounters a pickup line he describes: “She says, ‘Hey, don’t you work for NPR?! / You’re looking the type… And you’re looking pretty good in those khakis.'” In the same song, the strangely fascinating “You Make Me Feel Like a Freak,” his mind wanders to his volunteer job: “All my elderly friends are my fun / We play gin and poker and rum.”

The album isn’t just odd punchlines; there’s a sufficient amount of introspection to give a complete picture. It’s lovely and a bit touching when he describes an imagined bedroom scene in “East Side of the River”: “I’d push aside the piles of Essence, Ebony, and Jet / She’d be getting her hair done while sitting up in bed / TV muted so I could hear what she said.” Start putting it all together, and the album starts to seem like a disjointed memoir of trying to exist as a starting-to-age former-hipster. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; put All Y’all next to the rest of Morrison’s work and you can easily trace the autobiography of a creative, hip, and geeky person trying to make his way through the world.

The easy part is the music; his new backing band Hellfighters handles Morrison’s propensity for odd-meter dance rhythms with agility. The closest analog to the sound is Change-era Dismemberment Plan – all lush sustained open chords and undulating synth basslines – though the band occasionally switches to the freak-outs that characterized the Plan’s earlier work.

All Y’all is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, and not everyone will have the patience to fit all the pieces together. But if, like me, you want a bit more insight into one of indie music’s most intriguing personalities, this album is one more bit of information to savor.

Travis Morrison Hellfighters – “As We Proceed”: mp3

(All Y’all is due Aug. 21 on Barsuk; you can stream the whole album here)


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