My natural inclination with music is to work backwards. Sometimes it works, and I can draw a line between 2006 and 2011. And sometimes, I’m just reminded that people continue to be the people I’ve come to understand through their music. Other times, like today, there’s like two swigs of wine left in the 1.5L bottle of Malbec from the supermarket and my ideas get confused.
2011 was not a good year. For most of the summer, I think I listened to the Young Widows album ‘In and Out of Youth and Lightness‘ because I could blast it in the car and kinda turn off my brain for at least twenty minutes a day. Said album saved me from internal combustion probably more than a few times, but when life mellowed out and I took a look back, I couldn’t decide if I really liked the music or just liked that it was loud and numbing.
Even now, more than a few months out, I’m still wondering what that record meant to me.
By November, new challenges had arisen, and I had even purchased a few records between the summer and that time. Via Dischord came a new record from the mind of J. Robbins and company, in a new band known as Office of Future Plans. Once upon a time, J. Robbins was the songwriter in bands such as Jawbox and Burning Airlines — both bands that enamored me at different points in my life.
Five years ago, Robbins released a few massively underrated records with Janet Morgan and Darren Zentek under the name Channels. Once, before the Music Hall of Williamsburg became the Music Hall of Williamsburg, I got to see Channels live at North Six. I think I sat on some bleachers and watched them solo, then pedaled my bike back over the bridge, through Manhattan and took the train back to Newark.
I remember thinking to myself that they were good and that it wasn’t as good as Burning Airlines. And then their first EP came out and floored me and forced me to realize that I was using past experiences to judge the present. The EP was followed by an album on Dischord called “Waiting for the next end of the world,” which I still really love it to this day, despite its ‘Dick Cheney is watching you’ feel. (Now that I think about it, I think Dick Cheney may have inadvertently inspired more than a few albums I liked in the ’02-’07 era.)
Following the release of that album, Robbins and wife Morgan (also of Channels) gave birth to a son, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. The band quietly disappeared as their efforts focused elsewhere.
But somewhere in that new life that none of them expected, J. Robbins returned to playing music under a new governmentally-paranoid inspired name, The Office of Future Plans. According to a recent bio, “The songs began as cathartic exercises, cooked up in the singer/guitarist’s spare time, with no agenda other than to stay sane.” That line really resonated with me. Robbins’ life had been summarily turned upside down by his experiences as a parent, and his escape from the demands of life became a new record that excised hospital visits, occupational therapy and every hurdle he was jumping through to understand his son’s disease.
I bought the record back in November and listened to it for what it is — not a natural progression of Channels, but an attempt to keep one’s sanity in a world of uncertainty. I’ll never understand what Robbins and his family has been through, but I think I finally do understand the benefit in taking things for what they mean in the current time and place and not judging them against what’s already happened.
Office of Future Plans is J. Robbins in the present tense. Listen here.