Motion City Soundtrack is easily one of the most unique bands on the scene. Each new album is a fresh look at their unique take on pop punk, escalating guitars and weirdly memorable lyricism. The band’s new album, Panic Stations is, in a way, the first to buck this trend. It’s not a slight against the album; Panic Stations is a solid release that makes you keenly aware that MCS are the only band capable of making an album like this.
The difference between Panic Stations and the rest of Motion City’s discography is that it feels like the first time the band has tried to recreate its past rather than forge ahead into something new.
Panic Stations sounds like a brilliant mix of every past album from the band, most notably the stylistic similarities with Commit This to Memory and I Am the Movie. Others feel more alluded to, like the way that stand-out song “I Can Feel You” sounds like a sonically and lyrically-loose sequel to “Time Turned Fragile” from Commit This To Memory. It’s a wonderful, subtle nod to what the hardcore fans have always loved about the band.
The issue is that while this formula provides some great moments and ups the nostalgia factor in a way that almost any new album doesn’t, it feels like an older album. There is much more energy than in 2012’s Go, but it trades that new-found energy for songs that sound like they could have come off of Commit This To Memory or I Am the Movie at almost any point. It’s a weird trade off in that fans of the band’s older material will absolutely love it, while fans of their more recent albums may find some essential songs, but will be slightly disappointed with the whole.
Musically, this is Motion City through and through. It’s their past, their present and their future wrapped together. Justin Pierre and Joshua Cain sizzle through the guitar. The restraint and back-and-forth (“I Can Feel You”) and massive, ‘Weezer-esque’ choruses (“Over It Now”) are dominating machines, especially when they show a bit of both (“Heavy Boots”).
Matthew Taylor riots across the spectrum on bass and carries several songs (“Heavy Boots”). The bass is mixed perfectly to pop and stand out significantly from the steady wall of guitar without distracting. Jesse Johnson once again shows that he’s the best keyboardist in the scene. His synth weaves from the focus of the music to the background, almost acting as rhythm guitar (“Broken Arrow”). Newcomer Claudio Rivera bashes the shit out of his kit and maintains the intensity that has always been a staple of MCS’s sound.
The lyrical department is perhaps where Panic Stations disappoints the most. These are good songs, but few carry the weird and clever wordplay that has always been one of the highlighting charm of the band. Under any other circumstance, it probably wouldn’t be anything noticeable, but with years of experience with MCS, Panic Stations sounds slightly bland. Even my favorite song, “I Can Feel You”, sounds slightly bland when seeing the lyrics down on paper: “Lack of infrastructure, someone hear me out / I’m dying inside, There’s nowhere to hide / Where do I go? / Get back in the cage, just keep me away, I’m staggering / I can’t wait to find you, I really hate that I’m alone”.
That’s not to say that Panic Stations lacks its own charm. Each Motion City Soundtrack album seems to have a loose theme that holds it together (The new year in CTtM, or time and aging on Go), and Panic Stations is no different. The entire album has a loose thread of coming back from the brink of despair. Straight from the confident but exasperated opening line of “Let’s do this” at the start of the disc, there are several references to the end of the world (“I Can Feel You”) and refusing to give in. On “It’s a Pleasure To Meet You”, Pierre sings “At a distance, there’s a difference / Things will make sense, You are not alone / Got to hold on for the moment ‘til the next one / Everything is so damn tragic, time erodes the waves of panic / Get up, you are not alone”.
Panic Stations is an entertaining album, and is a fitting release for a band that has diehard fans of each album they release, even if they can’t agree which is their best one. It isn’t my favorite Motion City record, but it will be someone else’s. Panic Stations feels like a guided tour through Motion City’s history and gets their fanbase up to speed together.
by Kyle Schultz