Motion City Soundtrack


Written by: CM on 12/06/2012 06:10:47

Next to a lot of the artists who "broke through to the mainstream" during the popularity explosion of the pop-punk/emo/pop-rock scenes early in the last decade, Motion City Soundtrack have certainly proven to be one of the best, surpassing contemporaries like Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, and New Found Glory either in longevity, prolificism, or overall quality and consistency of work. Out of that same scene, only fans of Jimmy Eat World have experienced a similar flourishing of returns, and no one has covered as much musical and thematic ground over the course of five albums. Much of this success must be credited to frontman Justin Pierre, whose soaring tenor voice and confessional lyrics have kept fans connected to the band, even as they have matured and gone through major shifts in sound. The biggest of those was made on 2007's "Even if it Kills Me," where the band shed much of their rock sound in favor of pop sensibilities, delivering sky-high hooks, sugary production, and even a centerpiece piano ballad. While the response to that album was, overall, quite mixed, I've always thought it was their best work, both as a set of songs (the writing is incredibly strong throughout) and as a cohesive album (Pierre's battle with his own demons has never been more resonant). Adversely, I thought 2010's "My Dinosaur Life," was a strikingly inconsistent record, featuring some of the band's best songs to date ("Skin and Bones," "The Weakends," "Her Words Destroyed My Planet") alongside some of their very worst (the grating "@!#?@!" and the faux-O.A.R. frat-boy rock of "History Lesson").

Enter "Go," the excellent fifth full-length album from the Minneapolis-based band, and arguably their finest work to date. That's not going to be evident to a lot of people on first listen though. Indeed, throughout the first day that I spent with Motion City Soundtrack's latest, I thought it was little more than a very good summer album: the titanic hooks and pop-ready production from "Even if it Kills Me" are back, and right from the propulsive opener ("Circuits and Wires"), "Go" feels like the kind of record you throw on for driving around town throughout the summer. When I first started thinking of angles from which to approach this review, the "fun summer pop album" seemed like the stereotype I was destined go with, but then I sat down and really listened to what Pierre is saying here, and everything changed. At its heart, "Go" is a record about the duality life and death, and with that theme in mind, it's their most cohesive work to date. Pierre has gone on record about the title, saying that "'Go' can mean to leave, to give up, to give in, die, basically, or 'Go' can mean to choose life, to live, to experience, to exist, and those emotions and ideas color every song on this album, giving it a heroic and emotional arc, and making it one of the most fully-realized records of the year.

If you're paying attention, the theme is set early on. "I am all motors and gadgets/Organically designed to last a finite length of time," Pierre sings on "Circuits and Wires," and the shadow of death is never far from the proceedings here. He cycles through a pair of dysfunctional love songs (first single "True Romance," whose bridge is an album highpoint, both musically and lyrically, and the already-divisive "Son of a Gun") before launching into the album's centerpiece section. "Timelines," especially, is vintage Motion City Soundtrack, hitting upon the pop-heavy sound of "Commit This to Memory" and "Even if it Kills Me" at the beginning, and building into the same kind of feverish bridge that marked many of the songs on "Dinosaur Life." Watching the progression play out over the course of the song's four minutes is fitting, as the lyrics chart a similar progression offering both an immersion in nostalgia and a question of fate ("Do you ever wonder how you got to here?" Pierre asks repeatedly). It's the perfect lead in to the album's best and most sobering moment. "Everyone Will Die" is a tremendous symphony of a pop song, a gorgeously moving and innately heartbreaking slam-dunk that is both the album's most affecting number and its most immediate. "It doesn't mean goodbye, it's just a simple truth/The shedding of a lifetime of layers that once embodied you" Pierre croons over a bed of acoustic guitars and synthy ambiance: it's the perfect conclusion to the record's first side, but it's only the middle of the story.

"Go" is nearly as stellar throughout its second half as it is for its first, but even the songs that aren't 100% successful have their place here, like the insanely catchy "Coma Kid" or the darkly atmospheric "Boxelder." But the final two songs bring us fully back into the album's plot, and it is in these songs that the duality of death and life, between giving up and fighting on, is most palpably felt. The harrowing "Happy Anniversary" epitomizes the former, and it's arguably the darkest song the band has ever penned. The lyrics may play out like a suicide note, but Pierre has said he wrote the song about his grandmother, who died of cancer several years ago, and the words envision her final days of life. "Settle our accounts," "send the kids my love," "time has run its course" the choruses begin, building to the album's most crushingly emotional climax as the white flag is finally waved and life fades. Album closer "Floating Down the River" is the opposite: where "Happy Anniversary" is a surrender, the album's grand finale is an affirmation and a vow to try harder, to live life to the fullest. Just as "Everyone Will Die" ended side one encouraging us to cherish the people and things we love in this life, "Floating Down the River" ends the album on a high note of uplift, and even though it may lack some of the visceral climactic power of past closers (stuff like "Hold Me Down" or "Even if it Kills Me" - still the band's best song), I can hardly imagine a better send-off.

"Go" is not, song-for-song, a perfect record, nor does it always make good on its ambitious thematic material, but at its finest moments, it is everything the band envisioned and more: it's the finest front-to-back collection of songs they've penned to date, elevated even further by numerous outstanding highlights; it's the perfect balance between their pop sound and their darker, edgier rock side; and lastly, it's the most cohesive and magnetic lyrical journey Pierre has taken us on yet. When he bared his soul and discussed his battle with addiction on "Even if it Kills Me," the results were devastating, cathartic, and unforgettable, but here, he offers us with something that is even easier to relate to. Because, just as he sings, "everyone will die," but what matters is the question at hand: what are we going to do with the time that's been given to each of us? It may not resonate with everyone right away, and it most certainly won't hit each listener in exactly the same way it has hit me, but "Go" is the kind of record that could prove to be a "scene classic" and an all-time favorite for a lot of people ten years down the road. It's the kind of record people return to for answers and for comfort years after the release date, and while I can't see yet how it will compare to my other favorite albums of 2012, every time I turn up the volume and sink into these songs, I don't feel so inclined to care.

Download: "Everyone Will Die," "Happy Anniversary," "True Romance"
For The Fans Of: Jimmy Eat World, Manchester Orchestra, Say Anything

Release Date 12.06.12

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