Concern is a perfectly valid emotion to feel when you run through the opening tracks of Office of Future Plan’s self-titled debut. While “Salamander” and “Lorelei” are undeniably strong songs, as are every other track on this 12-track collection, everything just seems too comfortable. For a few, anxiety-inducing minutes, it seems like J. Robbins–pillar of the D.C. scene, constantly in-demand record producer, family man–is content with playing competent, but slightly boilerplate indie rock.
At this point, you would have to be extremely cruel to blame him. Ever since the 1997 dissolution of Jawbox, Robbins has logged time in band after band that, while solid, either didn’t last long enough (Burning Airlines), or haven’t been active enough (Channels) to pursue their initial potential. Robbins doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who is capable of not playing music, so why wouldn’t he start a merely O.K. band with fellow Channels member Darrek Zentek, just so he could stay in the groove? Such concerns and speculation are wiped, nay, blasted away by the time “Harden Your Heart” and “Ambitious Wrists” each kick, shout, and jerk their way in, and Office Of Future Plans reveals itself as quite possibly one of the most brilliantly sequenced albums of 2011. It grows from a slow, seething burn, whips itself into a gripping frenzy, and then takes just enough time to breathe before embarking on a heavy, determined march to its conclusion.
The journey is only enhanced by the sheer variety of sounds the band makes, and the immaculate way that they are captured by Robbins’ production, which stays clean while still maintaining a great deal of heft. Guitarist Gordon Withers also plays cello here, and he is constantly able to transform the instrument from texture-provider to melodic shiv at a moment’s notice. Keyboards and electronic flourishes pop up on “The Beautiful Barricades,” while pure noise shoots off during “The Loyal Opposition.” Each of these things only make one appearance, as if you’re on a really fast car trip and you’re only able to catch cursory glances of notable bits of scenery as you fly by. This ties in nicely with Robbins’ lyrical concerns this time around, which seem to be mainly focused on information overload and humans’ over-reliance on technology, which in turn seems like a confrontation of mortality. Robbins is the everyman, scrambling and shouting, making calls to action for enjoying life while it lasts instead of being constantly plugged in without resorting to cliched platitudes or beaten-down cliches.
You can find genre exploration and brave new paths in sound on a large number of other albums released this year. On Office Of Future Plans, you’re given a compelling narrative in song form, a collection of wake-up calls delivered with unfakeable passion, and a signed confession from J. Robbins saying he will never be content with just being O.K. Those things should always be enough.