Perfect LP — Motion City Soundtrack

News / Perfect LP / June 13, 2016

Perfect LP is a feature in which the Modern Vinyl writers take on the tall task of summarizing an artist or band’s career in an LP sized selection of tracks. Bypassing what was the single, what was the “hit” and what fans call for throughout shows, it’s time to decide what makes up the Perfect LP.

The Rules

The selections will total no more than 50 minutes.
The selections are arranged in logical fashion, as in how you’d like to hear them in a real tracklisting.

The Subject

Motion City Soundtrack, currently on their farewell tour through September, kicked off their career in 1999, while then releasing debut full length album, I Am The Movie, in 2003. Despite being lumped into the pop-punk/emo scene of the era — they played the Honda Civic Tour with Panic, Hush Sound and Phantom Planet (god damn, that tour) in 2008; then earlier the Nintendo Fusion Tour with Fall Out Boy, The Starting Line, Panic again and Boys Night Out in 2005 — they probably owed more so of their existence to bands like The Rentals,  The Weakerthans and Archers of Loaf. They stood out, despite never fully finding that specific crowd, putting out two classics (Commit This To Memory, My Dinosaur Life), along with two above average records in the span of 7 years. An incredibly consistent outfit, in both instrumental craft and songwriting. That’s what we’re losing.

The Tracks

The Explanation

When teasing this piece on Twitter, I received the appropriate response of Commit This To Memory (in the inquiry of the MCS “Perfect LP”). And yes, of course! That’s the best MCS full length by a mile. It’s my goal to top it. Let me into your nostalgia-flooded hearts people; let the pure hits present defeat the thematic advantage a fully-unified piece has on this mixtape; let this be the all-female led Ghostbusters (in other words, give it a damn shot). Joking aside, I do believe with the full utilization of their catalogue, we can top CTTM. After all, that record doesn’t have “Perfect Teeth,” so it’s automatically disqualified from this discussion.

Moving on, I did self impose a rule on myself to feature an opener not previously an album opener for the band (more on that choice below). And on the opposite end of the tracklisting, I was fully planning on having “Hold Me Down” close this bad boy out. Alas, when thinking about the LP’s actual message, it didn’t make sense to finish with crushing heartbreak. Enter “The Weakends” and the explanation you’ll find below.

Honorable mentions were aplenty, but were highlighted by I Am The Movie singles “My Favorite Accident” and “The Future Freaks Me Out.” The former was much closer to inclusion, as it’s aged much finer, but I’m happier with the later album tracks being in those typical “single spots.” “Everything Was Alright” was on here, no matter what, and the hook of “Her Words” (and maybe the Veronica Mars reference) pushed it ahead. “Better Open The Door” is a damn near perfect mid-tempo, mid-album track with that jaw-dropping build, but it was definitely a “don’t let Commit This To Memory dominate this list” balance. One of the more heartbreaking exclusions.

I’m sorry Panic Stations.

The Selections

Don’t Call It A Comeback (from I Am The Movie, 2003)

As previously stated, the challenge was to find a song not previously used as an opener that could still function in that role. My first selection was “Boombox Generation,” given the band’s connection to the name (fan communities would utilize the moniker and eventually the band would start a record label with the title), but it led poorly into the second track. It did lead perfectly into my second choice, “Don’t Call It A Comeback,” so there was a temptation to go with both to kick it off. That would lead to the whole thing being a little Movie top heavy though. In the end, this track also functioned as an explosive opener, led into track two properly, while the line “our take is more than meets the eye” always symbolized the hidden intricacies of this band, the electro-rock a smarter brand of the tunes they were often lumped along with.

Disappear (from My Dinosaur Life, 2010)

One of the band’s greatest, “Disappear” continues the opener’s energy and demonstrates frontman Justin Pierre’s talent for “songwriting within chaos.” His craft, voice is never lost amongst the noise, a tall task. This one served as the lead single for My Dinosaur Life, but more so a reminder of Commit This To Memory days following the pop experiment of Even If It Kills Me (an album I’m very much on the side of). The band can’t stop saying how “dark” this song is in a track-by-track at this time, but the thing I found interesting was this character being on the edge of either that darkness or pulling themselves to the light. And given the songwriter’s documented fight against alcohol abuse (being drunk for half the writing of Commit This To Memory, in his words), it’s certainly appropriate to touch on this battle early in the LP.

Everything Is Alright (from Commit This To Memory, 2005)

An obvious inclusion and I’ll get cuter later (as in one track from now) with my selections. I can still remember reading a 2005 copy of Rolling Stone, in which they called the track “Best Single You Haven’t Heard” (or something along those lines). Weirdly, it gave this early validation that the music I was picking wasn’t entirely wrong and that falling for MCS based on “My Favorite Accident” being in a Burnout soundtrack was okay. It made me feel as if my music taste was on the right track (and yeah, we all realize Rolling Stone isn’t quite that musical beacon anymore). Personal stories aside, this is their greatest pure single, deserving of that number 3 spot. Listening to it today, I remain dumbstruck over the Tony Thaxton percussion, especially those first few magical moments, and just how inspirational a song regarding OCD can be. It’s that light to the previous “Disappear” dark.

Bonus: I found this great interview Pierre did regarding the track through Alternative Press.

Where I Belong (from Even If It Kills Me, 2008)

This is where it starts to get weird. The EIIKM deep cut is my mid-tempo transition between hits, but more so, I love the thematic continuations at play. That the positive affirmation in the previous track can be lost, not because of external forces, but because of “mental weather” is poetic to me, the negative attempting a teardown. Pierre sings “I try to hold myself together…but this shitstorm’s never ending,” again calling back to that vicious battle lurking within some. A sense of belonging is at the core of this song, though, belonging which can overshadow temporary shortcomings (aka shitstorms), once again giving emotional balance to the track and this collection. That balance may prove to be one of the band’s greatest songwriting talents.

Her Words Destroy My Planet (from My Dinosaur Life, 2010)

While “Where I Belong” dealt with a more physical designation of belonging, this track, and the LP’s “second single,” talks the interpersonal dynamic of this concept, along with if a relationship can repair a mental landscape. I love its pairing in that regard and I love the idea of fixing oneself only to face further rejection. You can sell your Xbox to “Jimmy down the street” and even shave “off that beard” (which as a fellow beard man, is heartbreaking), but it still may result in returned postcards. As with many of their more romantic jaunts, this seems to deal with the eventual inability to change oneself or one’s faults. The line “All I want for you to be is happy” would deliver that romanticism, yet the songwriter simply can’t help himself with the conclusion of “or something.”

Make Out Kids (from Commit This To Memory, 2005)

Besides being a criminally underrated CTTM cut (“When You’re Around” = overrated), I think, again, this marks a nice lyrical pairing with the track before. Instead of one half of a couple unable to comprehend relationship failure, we have a relationship “better by design.” Our title “Make Out Kids” perhaps met one another too early, met one another in a summer fling-like scenario, or just simply see the writing on the wall. They’re doomed. And that self awareness is refreshing following “Her Words.” Also, I just couldn’t exclude another MCS rallying cry: “If we keep swimming, maybe this will never die.”

Bonus: Guitarist Joshua Cain gave the following description of the song through Buzzfeed: “Make out kids” were what I always thought of meeting someone and making out and realizing Oh my gosh you have so much in common with the state of making out with that person, and it ruins everything. Like, this doesn’t work and now that thing is ruined too, great. Just realizing that you’re not compatible in this way but you can’t go back from that.

Perfect Teeth (from I Am The Movie, 2003)

Did Trampled By Turtles cover this song at some point? I feel like I have this cover somewhere and can’t find it anywhere on the web now. Anyways, our second from I Am The Movie, “Perfect Teeth” is like imagining “1985” as a legitimately cool song. Sure, they toss out references to Paul’s Boutique and Calvin Klein cologne mixed with “tight white Ts,” but it’s all in service of actual substance. It doesn’t directly tie into our previously established theme, but it’s one of the band’s best hooks and helps transition into an album slow down.

Last Night (from Even If It Kills Me, 2008)

A truly heartbreaking account of dating a creative, “Last Night” begins our ballad portion of the record, one meant to take you on a three track journey. Stage 1. The breakup. Pierre sings of following a love into the “pouring rain,” the eventual message being one of “goodbye.” The love states, “I can’t compete with all your damn ideas,” perhaps the single most crushing line in the MCS discography, one hitting home for anyone unable to balance the lives of home and work properly. And the line “The truth is I’m too tired to play pretend” serves as a callback to earlier in the song, in a verse where Pierre sinks into himself, “afraid of the fall that never ends.” The best song from EIIKM and some of Pierre’s best, most finely tuned vocal work.

Fell In Love Without You — Acoustic (from Even If It Kills Me Acoustic EP, 2008)

Stage 2. Renewed passion. Despite coming prior to “Last Night” in the tracklisting (the electric version anyways), “Fell In Love Without You” really should follow “Last Night” in a storytelling fashion. This is the more controlled, restrained acoustic version (one that would hit pay dirt by way of Gossip Girl), allowing one to really focus on that narrative. The “heart of mine/beating solo on your lawn” from the crush of “Last Night” is slightly renewed. But it’s not fully formed, as “only time will tell if violins will swell,” only time will tell if the love is simply grasping at attention or something more. A beautiful rendition of an already great song.

Happy Anniversary (from Go, 2012)

Stage 3. The end. First off, I’ll forever be a staunch defender of Go. Its influences are vastly different than that of My Dinosaur Life, which certainly played into its hate, but go back, give it that second chance. Our third in this trilogy, it’s another tale of heartbreak (this ended up being a sad story) and one of death. As one partner passes on their anniversary, they choose to instead worry of what damage they leave behind, what fears must be calmed prior to exit. It’s a selfless take, especially poignant when paired with “Last Night” and “Fell In Love Without You,” tracks that focus on the “I,” tracks that focus on the turmoil of the damned. It’s a needed perspective flip.

Boxelder (from Go, 2012)

We’re doing double Go here people. The swirling guitar work is an obvious highlight, the song one of the sonically strangest in the band’s catalog. It does include a few lyrical gems, such as “I hate myself and no one else/But I lie so well, that you’d never tell,” but more so this is my “10-to-1” SNL slot. I just wanted this weirdness present.

Capitol H (from I Am The Movie, 2003)

One last burst of youth before we get to our closer. A song built on insanity (at least a sturdy base of it), it features some of the more bombastic synth work by Jesse Johnson, who really should of been mentioned much more in this piece. This inclusion is primarily a tribute to his fearlessness on the keys, but the hook of “I’ll be back with a capital H/It stands for hero, and the hero is me” leads nicely into a more inspirational end to this LP.

The Weakends (from My Dinosaur Life, 2010)

That hero achieves peace here, or as close as a Justin Pierre protagonist gets to peace. He sings “I’ll kick tomorrow/fight back at the pouring rain/I’ll send the weekends down the drain, down the drain” and it feels like a true victory. When before he drew his power from the dark, questioning if he was “weaker with lights on?” there’s now a denouncement of that method of pleasure. No more “Last Rites every Friday night.” No longer must he take part in this “liquid fiction.” There’s truth at the end of this tunnel.

Have your own LP? Leave it in the comments. 

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Christopher Lantinen
Chris Lantinen is the owner and editor-in-chief of Modern Vinyl. Along with his modest collection of sad sounding records, he collects his share of soundtracks and previously adored indie up-and-comers. Chris is currently a professor of journalism and public relations at Edinboro University in the Erie, Pennsylvania area.

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