J. Robbins has spent far more time behind mixing boards than he has behind a guitar in the last six years, his last band Channels having come to a halt shortly after the release of their sole full-length, Waiting For the Next End of the World. But then, in an unexpected move, Robbins reunited with his bandmates in Jawbox for one night to perform on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” in 2009. Though it was fleeting, that discordant, yet stunningly melodic sound was all the more refreshing after having been kept quiet for more than a decade. Yet, without too much fanfare, Robbins had been engaged in something entirely new for a year leading up to that one-off reunion, a recording project that never meant to exist outside of his Baltimore studio, yet bore some highly impressive fruit all the same.
The Office of Future Plans, whose name is inspired in equal parts from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and a Dick Cheney-commissioned government committee, continues the melodic yet abrasive path that Robbins has followed from Jawbox to Burning Airlines and, briefly, Channels. Rounding out the band are drummer Darren Zentek, also formerly of Channels, bassist Brooks Harlan and guitarist/cellist Gordon Withers, who once recorded an all-cello album of Jawbox covers. As it turns out, hook-laden post-hardcore and strings actually combine beautifully, which proves to be an unexpected treat.
The band’s self-titled debut album is simultaneously a return of a familiar and welcome style of high-energy indie rock and a new variation that has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. The band gets off to an incredible start with “Salamander,” an epic yet hard charging rocker that not only recalls Robbins’ best work in Jawbox or Burning Airlines, but the dense crunch of Failure, or the punchy rhythms of Chavez. Yet the band switches up dramatically one track later on “Lorelei,” dropping a two-minute pop song that’s not only straightforward in its approach, but refreshingly elegant. Still, there’s plenty of punk rock to go around here, juxtaposing Withers’ cello against menacing riffs on “Ambitious Wrists,” or just plain going head-first into the hard stuff on “The Loyal Opposition.”
The best elements of `90s post-hardcore are present in the The Office of Future Plans’ debut, but they’ve been touched up with some contemporary flourishes, and made a little more flexible, and at times, unapologetically pop. And the fact that the band has actually given to performing these songs live is a suggestion that there may be more in the band’s future. Even if The Office of Future Plans was never meant to get off the ground, that it got this far is something worth celebrating.
Jawbox – For Your Own Special Sweetheart
Shiner – The Egg
Chavez – Ride the Fader
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.