The Album Pitchfork Gave a 0.0 To Is Actually Really Good
Travis Morrison: the kindest troll of all.
[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
In 2004, Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison released his somewhat-anticipated solo debut, Travistan to a few polite reviews (Blender, Spin, AV Club) and one notably different one.
Won over to the Plan in 2003 by the best show I'd ever seen in my life (one of their last before retiring), I'd pre-ordered my copy of Travistan and was still processing what I thought was a very good, if twisty album. So I was surprised to open the lead Pitchfork review on September 27, 2004 and see the rating at the top: 0.0 out of 10. Even though my tastes hardly ran with those of the site (which I've since written for), I thought it was an error. Other negative reviews popped up on Popmatters and Tiny Mix Tapes, and eventually it came out that at least one music store had refused to stock the album. Used and promo copies sold for as little as $3 on Amazon within months, which wasn't the case with the other releases on Barsuk Records.
What did people find wrong with the album? Sure, Morrison sings on the fringe of his pitch in "Change," the first real song, and the string-and-piano-laden "Angry Angel" was too much to stomach for even diehards like me. But a zero? This was from people who gave his band's previous two full-lengths a 9.6 (since amended to a 10.0 -- polarizing guy, huh) and an 8.6. Only Stylus broke rank from the other post-Pitchfork reactions: "I'm bummed that people are so quick to reject what doesn't fit their immediate logic. It's ironic that folks would get off on shredding an album that's about trying to be kind and honest at the same time."
Morrison told Washington City Paper, "Up until the day of the review, I'd play a solo show, and people would be like, 'That's our boy, our eccentric boy.' Literally, the view changed overnight ... I could tell people were trying to figure out if they were supposed to be there or not. It was pretty severe, how the mood changed."
By the time Morrison came to my town, he opted not to play even a single tune from his most recent record. I watched him perform an entire set of new, unreleased songs.
If you haven't heard Travistan, you must be wondering what the fuck this thing sounds like. The quote above is accurate; the music isn't that different from his Plan records at all. If it were a truly random detour, bad word-of-mouth would've spread long before the Pitchfork review. The record sounds like the Plan with all links to their punk and hardcore past removed. Only the funky keyboard sounds, hip-hop and jazz allusions of his recent records remain, and his in-no-way-new sense of humor is amped up. That's really all that changed. The tone of the lyrics wasn't new for him either, though his emo following would get angry at their inability to relate to a new emphasis on novelty wackiness.
Some people really hate Soul Coughing and They Might Be Giants. I imagine it's they who were embarrassed by "Get Me Off This Coin," a song split into four pieces throughout the record, each one detailing a currency-honored president in his own (modern) words. Morrison in the voice of a pot-smoking Thomas Jefferson sings "I like my nations in constant revolution/ And my booty wide."