#1 – MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK – GO [spotify] / MAKING MOVES VOL. 6 [spotify]

(feat. track – “Circuits And Wires” [spotify] from Go)

This year was the hardest I can remember for picking my Number One album; as I sorted and rearranged and rethought my list throughout December, each of the albums in my top three spent some time in this slot. As it is, I’m still not sure I’ve made the right choice. I’m not even sure Go is my favorite Motion City Soundtrack album – I dither between its mellow vibe and My Dinosaur Life’s fidgety aggression on a regular basis. But if Go wasn’t my clear-cut favorite this year, it’s certainly the most interesting of the three albums that are more-or-less tied for the top spot.

I wrote about the thematic threads running through Go when I reviewed the album; the more I listen to it, the more I become convinced that it’s a concept album. I’m not sure that was Motion City’s intent – it’s probably more likely that the songs that comprise Go are merely reflective of their frames of mind at the time they were writing, rather than the result of some concerted effort to make a cohesive statement – but if books belong to their readers, well then albums belong to their listeners, authorial intent be damned, and Go is what it is regardless of intent. It’s certainly better-crafted, more thematically precise and more consistent than any recent concept album I can recall. So what if it doesn’t exactly tell a linear story? If you were to assert that it did, I’m not sure I could prove you wrong.

And as a concept album, it’s incredibly brave. Coming from the pop-punk world – a scene and a style built on the live-fast-die-young ethos and the big “fuck you”; one where youthful folly is not only accepted but encouraged, as though fucking up is the only proper way to live; one where the only regrets are supposed to be the crazy things you didn’t do – an album on giving up isn’t just unusual, it’s anathema. An album about acceptance: that some of our dreams we will never achieve; that ties to our friends are tenuous, at best; that our time with our loved ones is surely limited; that our bodies and our minds will both slowly fail us; that death will happen, unavoidably. An album about acquiescing to all the things we are supposed to rail against, to ignore, to deny and to disbelieve.

Go addresses all these topics with a stunning level of maturity and depth. These are the best set of lyrics vocalist Justin Pierre has written, full of the sort of specificity that engenders universality. Pierre has always been an incredibly honest, open songwriter, but Go reaches to even deeper places than the soul-bearing of tracks like “Everything Is Alright” and “L.G. FUAD”, tracks that made his reputation in the first place.

It needs to. Because the dirty secret is, sometimes supposedly “brutal” honesty is actually easy honesty. The idea of exposing yourself seems hard because you’re pointing out your flaws, and that’s supposed to be painful. But if you feel like they’re obvious flaws – like the whole world knows your failings already – addressing them doesn’t require nearly the courage it might seem to take. It’s self-aggrandizement couched as behumblement; it’s the pride of the martyr. Self-excoriation is old hat for Pierre by now; on Go, he looks beyond where he should ostensibly be vulnerable, drilling down to where he actually is vulnerable.

And that’s real bravery. Because ultimately, it’s much easier to admit we’re shitty people sometimes than it is to admit that we’re going to grow old and die. And it’s one thing when that message of inevitability is coming from the decimated shell of Johnny Cash or an ailing Glen Campbell or the inescapable prognosis of Warren Zevon. They’re not like us; we can see death painted on their faces. They already straddle that divide; not a person staring down the end, but a ghost singing back to us from across the Styx.

But there’s nothing “other” about a bunch of dudes in their early 30s, still in their prime, or at least, there’s not for me. I can’t write them off, dismiss them, disconnect them from myself. They are me. And because of that, Go effects me on each listen that a way no other album in 2012 did, or could.

Finally, a word on the Making Moves 7″. When I initially decided to lump each band’s entire output for the year into their entries on my year-end lists, it didn’t occur to me that a band might put out material that would detract from my overall opinion of their year. I’m not going to rehash my thoughts on Making Moves – I still feel the same as I did when I reviewed it. But if I’m going to dock the band points for Making Moves the 7″, they earn just as many back for Making Moves the project. Motion City Soundtrack’s decision to spend their year not just on their own music but curating (and producing) a series of 7″s for up-and-coming acts led to some excellent music being made (I particularly enjoyed the releases by The Company We Keep and A Great Big Pile Of Leaves), but more importantly, it was the sort of selfless act that keeps scenes vital and interesting. I don’t think acts have a duty to give back, but I definitely give them extra credit when they do.

review of Go (published 6/18/12)

review of Making Moves: Vol. 6 (published 11/10/12)