An early summer night in 2008. Boy scoops girl up in battered Grand Am. A tentative, innocent kiss. “Where to,” he asks?
“Let’s just drive. I finished your mix!” She smiles, handing him a slim disc case. There are graphics, a tracklisting, liner notes. My kinda girl, he thinks to himself. He scans the tracklist: Counting Crows, Deborah Cox, Motion City Soundtrack, Evanescence. He slips the disc into the player, willing to forgive the Evanescence in lieu of the sheer dedication. He drives.
Soon, the early morning arrives. The Grand Am overlooks the river; Motion City Soundtrack’s “This Is For Real” softly wafts from the speakers; “this is the best thing that I’ve ever had, for real,” sings frontman Justin Pierre, and boy can’t help but agree. It is at this point that girl helpfully points out that the song is not a pleasantly drippy romantic ode, but rather a love letter to the sober life. Boy abandons half-cooked cheesy line pointing out song’s connective tissue to this particular moment, and is content to silently, happily absorb the trivia in his moonlit sedan.
Classic music-geek romance: bespectacled boy meets strikingly cute new waitress at work. Boy impersonates manager to open the floodgates of flirtation. Boy steals girl away from idiot boyfriend, feels no remorse. Boy makes mix cds, girl reciprocates. Boy initially pretends to like pop-punk music to engender girl’s affection; boy eventually folds and succumbs to the subgenre’s bouncy, effervescent charms, buys Motion City Soundtrack and Blink-182 albums on purpose and enjoys them immensely.
Boy marries girl. Boy becomes successful DJ, and writes music reviews on one of the internet’s finest pop-culture websites. (Boy reserves right to punch anyone who disagrees with either assessment put forth in that sentence square in the nose.) New Motion City Soundtrack album, entitled Go, is released; Guided By Voices release a record on the same day, and boy’s inner music snob feels moderately guilty for liking MCS just as much.
But to thine own self be true, and boy finds himself hunched over his keyboard in the wee hours of the morning, urgent opener “Circuits & Wires” a potent soundtrack to the sun cresting the horizon. Girl sleeps peacefully next to him, dog happily curled up at her side. It’s a beautiful thing, boy realizes, to have a band so uniquely capable of reminding him of the embryonic days of their relationship, a time before electric bills and rent and car insurance; “True Romance” crystallizes this perfectly, acoustic ditty giving way to driving power-pop, lovey hooks dovetailing nicely with a catchy synth line. Plus, it shares a title with a Quentin Tarantino screenplay; boy doles out mountain of cool points for this.
Boy realizes, for the first time since Motion City Soundtrack’s last record, that he’s not simply dealing with another pop-punk band; no, he decides, Motion City are more closely aligned with All-American Rejects or Fall Out Boy, bands tethered by popular opinion to teenage girls, but are secretly among some of the best power-pop players around. Boy loves all genres of music – at least all genres of music that don’t number Toby Keith among their luminaries – but has never backed away from his love of pure pop, which Go provides in spades. “Timelines”, wistful and easy to relate to, asks “do you ever wonder how you got to here?”; it’s a simple question, but a potent one, and boy applauds MCS frontman Justin Pierre for his honest and literate lyricism. “Everyone Will Die”, like “Timelines”, finds beauty in its fatalism – underscores it with piano and swooping strings, in fact – and makes, like much of Go, a point of stressing the importance of decision. Life boils down to a series of choices, and boy nods along, casting a sideways glance at his sleeping wife, and realizing that he’s made some pretty good ones.
Honest and self-effacing – yet remarkably universal – lyricism married to insidiously catchy hooks, occasionally decorated with gurgling synths or autumnal acoustic guitars; it’s only natural that a boy who cut his musical teeth on Elvis Costello records would gravitate to something like this. Boy appreciates energetic power-pop, never once blighted by idiotic lyrical content; he appreciates Justin Pierre’s crisp, robust tenor, and the way it skips effortlessly from keening falsetto to full-bore wail and back again; but moreover, he appreciates the way Go makes him feel, like a boy who’s really into this girl, and hopes she likes him back.
Motion City Soundtrack specialize in this feeling; they traffic in the sort of effervescent, instantly-gratifying rock music that the kids like, but there’s a maturity and a relatability there that sets them apart from their peers. Go is the band’s fifth record, and they’ve accomplished this feeling pretty consistently. Congratulations girl, boy thinks, typing in a grade for the record. You win again.