Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Juno and the Dismemberment Plan: Split EP (DeSoto, 2000)

"Unstable but ingenious/ How we built this wall between us/ Unmiraculous but swift/ How it came to an end."

The DeSoto label was started in 1989 by Bill Barbot and Kim Coletta from Jawbox, adding to an already impressive list of DC-based indie labels like Dischord, TeenBeat, and Simple Machines. And like its mates, DeSoto released albums from excellent DC acts like the Dismemberment Plan and Faraquet, but also looked beyond the District's borders to add bands like Compound Red, Shiner, and Juno. Seattle's Juno were particularly impressive, a four-piece specializing in king-sized walls of sound and epic melodies tinged with tension and dread. A Future Lived in the Past Tense and This is the Way it Goes and Goes are two of the best guitar albums of the late '90s/early aughts.

So I was especially stoked back in 2000 when DeSoto released a split EP featuring Juno and the Plan, a nice chocolate-and-peanut butter combo mixing the Plan's brilliant spazzcore with the leviathan emo of Juno. The release finds each band contributing one original and one cover, and each tune is a gem.

The Plan starts things off with tongues planted firmly in cheek, as The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich comes blaring out of the speakers double-time in a flurry of bells and whistles. The track is a feverish daydream of international intrigue and blackmarket financeering, as Travis Morrison excitedly explains, "In early '95, well, we got the dough so we could diversify/ Had a lot of money up in bio-weapons which has low liquidity/ Sold a lot of Krugerrands and rubles to a bunch of really weird Swiss guys/ And we were rockin'." The drums and bass maintain a relentless spring, with sheets of briarpatch distortion thrown in for good measure. It's hyperactive and hyperaddictive, a Ritalin-fueled joyride into self-delusion.

Juno's original entry is a career highlight: the stunning Non-Equivalents conjures up millennial tension and wounded anger, a thrashing tower of riffs with a thrilling vocal melody desperately bellowed. As was always the case with Juno, the rhythm section more than holds up its end, laying down a rock-solid foundation for the chiming, churning guitars. "Goddammit, don't you ever listen?" urges Arlie Carstens before admitting, "No, we're never even/ And I can find no simple reason for this." This song is reason alone to check out the EP.

As for the covers, both the Plan and Juno acquit themselves admirably. Juno hands in a shockingly spot-on instrumental cover of the DJ Shadow cut-and-paste turntable masterpiece "High Noon." The drummer kills it, frankly, perfectly recreating the rhythm and feel of the original, while the guitars (with Sunny Day Real Estate's Nate Mendel sitting in on bass, incidentally) manage an awesome stuttering approximation of the original's sampled melody.

The Plan chooses Jennifer Paige's dancepop trifle "Crush," but take it in a nice direction by slowing it down to quarter time and stripping it of its club-ready disco punch. The end result is a smoldering, sinister crawl, with slickly shimmering chords and Morrison's dazed, resigned vocals darkening the lyrics.

This EP was one of the last releases from each of these bands, as each would release their final albums in 2001 before breaking up. We're just lucky they held it together long enough to collaborate on this, an endlessly enjoyable East Coast-West Coast meeting of the minds and a perfect example of why DeSoto is a great label.