PLAN OF ACTION: Inevitably during the first months of a new year, music critics everywhere uncover an album they wish they had placed on their requisite list of the previous year's best albums. I'm happy to report that during the second week of February, I found mine. Halfway into the first tune on The Dismemberment Plan's third full-length album, I mused to myself: Hmmm. I'll bet these guys are from D.C. And sure enough, I was right.

D.C. has always churned out that angular, time-changing neo-jazzbo punk rock stuff in droves. And "A Life of Possibilities," said intro to Emergency & I (DeSoto), was a dead giveaway in its Shudder To Think-like pseudo-operatic vocal style, though its indie-Skynyrd guitar hammering (as in hammer on, hammer off) is wholly unique. But if I'd waited to check their city of origin, I might have been a little more confused.

Yes, it's true that "Memory Machine" is dense, claustrophobic post-punk à la Jawbox (not coincidentally, one Jawbox member owns DeSoto Records), but you can count the influences on this album until you're blue in the face, and only then realize just how unique this album truly is. Some of it falls into the math-rock camp to be sure, but most math rock is almost intentionally inaccessible. Emergency & I is instantly accessible and completely listenable -- math rock for people who never bothered to take calculus.

Elsewhere, "What Do You Want Me to Say?" is quirky new wave-meets-anthemic emo-core; "Spider in the Snow" is a lovely little pop song for the downtrodden ("The only thing worse than bad memories is no memories at all"); "I Love a Magician" is claustrophobic and frenetic, like a collaboration between Pavement and Bis with a pile of crystal meth between them; and "You Are Invited" 's verses consist solely of an electronic drum beat and spoken-sung vocals, until the chorus explodes in guitars and an amazing hook. Lyrically, the Plan manages to wring heartfelt and meaningful anecdotes out of the everyday life of an observant, if ordinary, 20something guy. For fans of this type of stuff, I can't recommend this album, and this band, strongly enough.

Check out The Dismemberment Plan when they take the stage of Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave., at 9 p.m. Tuesday, February 15. Like-minded locals Hobart will open the all-ages show, which will set you back five bucks at the door. For more information, call 884-0874.

SHINING BRIGHTLY: This week sees the long-awaited release of the self-titled CD by alt-poppers Nevershine. The disc is due in stores on Tuesday, February 15, but the boys are giving you an opportunity to pick up a copy in advance, at a CD release party for which they've put together a stellar local lineup. Nevershine will share the bill with How to Build a Rocketship and Simplistics, and to sweeten the deal even further, there will be free giveaways courtesy of Sticks and Strings and Allusion Studios. The shindig kicks off at 9 p.m. Friday, February 11, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5. Call the club at 622-8848 for further details.

TRICKY TREATS: Tucson's Tricky Luz began as a duo in 1996, when vocalist John Clinebell and acoustic guitarist John Watts began cutting their teeth playing in local coffee shops. Sensing they were onto something, they decided to move beyond the subdued cafÉ scene and fleshed out their sound by adding three more members, one at a time. The band's current lineup includes drummer Miguel Monroy, bassist Aaron Hubbard and electric guitarist Brad Haefner, and has just self-released Honeyblood, the group's debut CD.

The group's coffee shop roots are still plainly in evidence on the disc, which is a thoroughly mellow affair throughout. Jazzy, folky pop undertones provide the base for Clinebell's often gruff and sometimes wordy vocals. But Honeyblood is also slightly edgier than most cafÉ fare, just as two of the band's more obvious influences, Counting Crows and the Dave Matthews Band, are. Imagine a mostly acoustic version of Live (drama fully intact), and you're headed in the right direction.

Fans of any of the aforementioned bands would do well to check out one of Tricky Luz's two performances this weekend. They'll be playing at 9 p.m. Friday, February 11, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St., and again at 9 p.m. Saturday, February 12, at Martin's on Congress, 256 E. Congress St. For details, call 7 Black Cats at 670-9202, and Martin's on Congress at 791-9869.

FINAL NOTES: Get your tickets early for Sevendust, one of the leading outfits of the new hard-as-nails rock renaissance. All chugging riffage and growling vocals, the kids will be turning out in droves for this one. The band plays the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, February 16. The show kicks off at 7 p.m. with openers Double Drive, Kittie and PH8. Advance tickets are available for $18 at Zip's University. Call 798-3333 for further details.

And finally, congratulations to those lucky enough to score tickets to this week's appearance by Elton John. As some of us got the shaft (no naming names or anything), I beg you to take pity on those of us standing outside the TCC shamefully bartering for extra tickets before the performance. Please be nice, and enjoy the show.

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