Office of Future Plans - Office of Future Plans
Record Label: Dischord
Release Date: November 22, 2011
According to their profile on Dischord Records' website, "Office of Future Plans was never supposed to be a band." What was initially planned as a one-off show for a quartet of punk veterans, featuring DC-scene icon J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, etc.) on the mic, apparently turned into a full-on recording collaboration. The album that emerged, perhaps not surprisingly, is essential listening for anyone who laments the sad reality that "they just don't make angular rock like they did in the '90s." (For everyone else, check out For Your Own Special Sweetheart, then lament with us.)
Unlike Robbins' work with Jawbox, Office of Future Plans doesn't break down any barriers and isn't likely to be viewed as a classic for future generations to revere. It is, however, precisely the type of mature, workmanlike effort one would expect from a frontman and producer with twenty-five years in the biz. Songs like the very hooky "Lorelei" are reminiscent of the recent work of a similarly experienced legend, Bad Religion's Greg Graffin, incorporating aggression with a polished melodicism (think along the lines of The Dissent of Man's "Cyanide"). Robbins doesn't always get political, but when he does ("Fema Coffins"), he echoes Graffin's discontent with the status quo, even employing similar imagery ("the world's a burning wreck"). Longtime Robbins fans will appreciate tracks like "Salamander", which recalls the straightforward edge of Jawbox's Grippe, as well as the single "Harden Your Heart", whose alternately rumbling and needling guitars sound like a slowed-down version of Burning Airlines' "Scissoring".
The often subtle and occasionally prominent star of Office of Future Plans is Gordon Withers on cello. As opposed to the sharp string slices heard in the music of, say, Cursive, Withers's smooth, gliding style smartly doesn't overpower these already muscular songs, even when providing the primary hook (the aforementioned "Lorelei"). However, the accents it supplies are pitch-perfect, whether it's the brooding tension of "Ambitious Wrists" or the organic warmth of "Abandon".
The record does stumble a bit toward its back end with the moody but sluggishly prosaic ballad "You're Not Alone" and "The Beautiful Barricades", whose reliance on keys and tinny electronic effects is rather awkward when compared to the otherwise rawer material surrounding it. Still, there's much to like about Office of Future Plans, though I suspect its appeal beyond being a throwback to the golden age of angst-ridden but pop-sensible rock music may be rather limited. However, as an album born out of a simple joy of four guys playing together, its aims were probably to be nothing more than exactly what it is. And, at least for a certain contingent of '90s kids, that's sure to hit the spot.