Among many other things, The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I is a masterpiece of loneliness and mundane details. Travis Morrison was not quite at his peak of insight into the human condition (that would occur on Change) but he was damn close to nailing the young white male condition, and the band’s loopy disruption of rock music was the perfect soundtrack to Morrison’s nth nervous breakdown. While spazzier moments like “Girl O’Clock” or more standardly emotive songs like “The City” garner more obvious attention, no song on the record captures the particular version of the mundane that comes about when winter comes in contact with a young adult the way “Spider In The Snow” does.
From the opening chintzy Casio string swell (deliberately chosen by the band over a real string section for its artifice), “Spider In The Snow” bounces along like Christmastime mall music, with little ticks of apparent uplift coming along at just the right moments, the rising motion of the chorus convincing you that things are actually going pretty much alright. And then you listen to Morrison’s lyrics – “From the ages of twenty to twenty-two I had five friends / None of these names I can recall / And as I would walk down K Street to some temping job / As winter froze the life out of fall / I must have been having a ball, yeah.” A ball, indeed.
Year round, we find ourselves making notes about trash day changing, meeting people only to forget their names the moment we turn around, constantly trying to incite change in our own lives but finding nothing new – it’s all happening somewhere else. What makes “Spider In The Snow” so perfect for the holidays, though, is that it enacts the attempts at self-deception that it calls out. Nothing in the music of the song would seem to indicate that anything is other than fine – in fact it’s downright jaunty, a shoddy cover-up of sadness like last-minute Christmas deals at big box stores or office party mistletoe.