A year ago, Interscope released a four-song teaser for the Dismemberment Plan's upcoming album, but what came next was not the D.C. quartet's major-label debut, but a wrenching shakeout as Universal (Interscope's corporate parent) and Polygram merged and dumped many of their acts. So the Plan is back on DeSoto, the local label run by ex-Jawboxers Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot, with a smart, lively album that probably wouldn't have offered much of a challenge to Britney and Ricky. "Emergency & I" is a strong effort, but it's too prickly for today's pabulum-pop audience.
The Plan's music is angular and antsy, with fractured-funk beats, discordant guitars and refrains into which Travis Morrison jams words in open disregard to the meter. The prevalent mood is not despair but discomfort -- the singer wears his daily existence of K Street temp jobs ("Spider in the Snow") and troubling invitations ("You Are Invited") as if it were an itchy sweater. "I lost my membership card to the human race," is how Morrison puts it in one of the catchier tracks, "What Do You Want Me to Say?" For listeners who can identify with such a plight, uneasy-listening tunes like "The Jitters" may prove oddly soothing.
When electronic instruments became available, synthetic rhythms were among the first new sounds to be widely adopted. (Drum kits -- and drummers -- can be such a bother.) The mostly electro local duo Aerialist inverts that formula, however, with a sound in which drums are the principal acoustic instrument. And since singer-synthesist Lary Hoffman provides a steady pulse, drummer Stevie Treichel is even free to embroider the beat.
The six tracks on the group's new "Aerialist" -- its second CD to bear that name -- don't get especially abstract. Not only does Treichel's percussion sustain the momentum, but such Hoffman compositions as "What If We?" and "More to Need" tend toward direct, bouncy synthpop. Even the eight-minute closer, "Just One More Time," is a simple groove that's more earthy than spacy. Its name aside, Aerialist shows little interest in musical vapor trails.
Both appearing Saturday at the Black Cat with Q and Not U and Beat Down Sound.
To hear a free Sound Bite from the Dismemberment Plan, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8127. For a Sound Bite from Aerialist, press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)