“Cambridge,” the first song on Motion City Soundtrack’s full-length debut, I Am the Movie, opens with a long siren, a breakneck bass line, and what sounds like a spacecraft lifting off. When a moog steps in line with the bass, and the drums somehow rein everything in, the cumulative result is something that just might be the New Rock. But then something happens. All the instruments save the guitar drop out, and singer Justin Pierre delivers his chorus in the proverbial wounded-boy wail. Alas, we have another emo band on our hands.
Actually, the rest of the album recovers after dropping this bomb. By the third track it’s clear this 4-year-old quintet is not exactly sheep trudging behind the Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World. In fact, the band, with its adaptive style, is more like a chameleon. Several songs bear the emo stamp, most audibly in the many half-time choruses (these give a singer ample measures to really belt out post-break up despair). But Motion City Soundtrack also switches it up to deliver Cursive-like aggro-rock (“Don’t Call It a Comeback” and “Mary Without Sound”) and Harvey Danger-style power-pop (“Capital H” and “The Future Freaks Me Out,” the album’s single).
The poppier songs on I Am the Movie, one of the slickest releases from Epitaph to date, are possible bids for radio play. And “The Future Freaks Me Out” has two FM essentials: a bouncing melody and throwaway lyrics that name check pop-culture “landmarks” including Will and Grace. Even the song’s title seems like an appeal to the demographic sweatin’ its SAT scores. Despite — or maybe because of — its juvenilia, the song is undeniably catchy.
The same can be said for the whimsical “Capital H,” in which a daydreaming Pierre imagines a Superman-like arrival onto the scene. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he sings, “I’ll be back in the ballroom swingin.’ ” The vocal line dances around Jesse Johnson’s moog, which follows “less-is-more” wisdom and oscillates between two simple notes. Your more sophisticated listener may refrain from pogo-ing to the hooks in “Capital H” and “The Future Freaks Me Out,” but try stopping the kids at the next Warped Tour show.
With any luck, MCS will keep the moog out in front in their future recordings. There’s little chance of the instrument ever turning them into a novelty act, not with the energy of the guitars and the driving tempo favored by drummer Tony Thaxton. And should they find that fully realized sound, there will be no reason to resort to emo posturing.