Thousands of words have been used to describe J. Robbins’ music over the years, but “loose” has never been one of them. That changes with the self-titled debut by the singer-guitarist’s new group, Office Of Future Plans. The lush, fluid record blunts the angularity of Robbins’ best-known projects from the past two decades (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Channels) while letting his melodies and arrangements ripen and radiate.
One of the pluses is cellist Gordon Withers. Threading his instrument—both bowed and plucked—into Robbins’ labyrinthine guitar couldn’t have been easy, but Withers does so with sympathy and precision. The opener, “Salamander,” shimmers with a melancholy twang; “Your Several Selves” is almost XTC-like in its classic pop intricacy. But Office does more than just mellow out: The churning “The Beautiful Barricades” is simultaneously the album’s heaviest and prettiest track, and “FEMA Coffins” is a catchy, corrosive punk anthem that still packs fistfuls of twists.
The eclecticism doesn’t always work in the band’s favor. The one-two wallop of “Ambitious Wrists” and “The Loyal Opposition” feels like a mini-set of Jawbox leftovers crammed into the middle of the disc; they’re good songs, however, even though their stark, gnarled aggression is a little out of place. Raging yet cerebral, Office Of Future Plans is by no means a radical departure for Robbins, but it does show him poised, with more focus and confidence than ever, at the midpoint between post-punk acidity and singer-songwriter sweetness.