"Hold Me Down" / Motion City Soundtrack
The headliners the other night were Panic at the Disco, who I love, but the big surprise for me was the second-billed act, Motion City Soundtrack. Amidst the skinny-jeaned emo crew, they added a bracing dose of teddy-bear charm, especially lead vocalist Justin Pierre -- a born front man, with a wild thatch of dark hair and geeky glasses and a penchant for non-sequitur stage babble (you know how I love that).
Sure, they can do the rapid-fire polysyllabic lyrics of emo pop, everyone pogoing around the stage and yelping earnestly. But these guys have a good deal more range, as I discovered when I came home and listened again to their CDs (which were mysteriously already in the apartment). Well, what do you expect, they're all on the cusp of 30 -- you can't stay a kid forever. And they are from Minneapolis, land of Paul Westerberg; it's entirely possible that a knack for writing smart, offbeat rock songs is in the water up there.
This poignant midtempo number from their 2006 CD Commit This To Memory does a lot of things all at once -- dissects a relationship, conveys the squeamish drama of splitting up, and defines a whole generation's problem with commitment. It's written in the form of a letter, though who wrote it and when it was left remain murky -- "I found a letter that said:" the song begins, so I assume everything that follows is the body of that devastating break-up note. But maybe not. (Now that's some deft songwriting.)
Clearly, the writer of the note (him? the girl who just dumped him? a long-ago ex?) is a total coward -- "I'm sorry that you were asleep when I wrote these words down," he mentions, with a weaselly squirm. Blame is laid on a chronic lack of communication: "Save for a few of those late-night episodes / Missed opportunities and I-don't-cares / There's not a lot that I feel obliged to share or talk about." (Let's get real; this has got to be a guy speaking.) At any rate his/her brothers will be stopping by to pick up his/her stuff -- "just make sure that you're not there" -- and the writer concludes, with all sincerity, "I love you, however / You hold me down."
Despite the earnest vocals, for some reason I think the writer of this song (songs are credited to the whole band, but this one feels way personal) knows darn well what a lousy shit this person is. The melody feints and curls around, and the sound is full and just a tad muddy -- the various instruments (crunchy guitar, splatting drums, whiny synth) weave in and out uneasily, and a wheeze of uncertain vocal harmonies underlying the lyrics. It's the perfect aural equivalent of the messy break-up. Brilliant.
That verse is followed by an astonishingly lyrical bridge: "You're the echoes of my everything / You're the emptiness the whole world sings at night / You're the laziness of afternoon / You're the reason why I burst and why I bloom. / How can I break the news to you?" Somehow I get the idea he's now describing another relationship -- a much finer one -- which is, surprise surprise, following the same fatal pattern. Which can only mean it's his fault.
Now here's a really shrewd touch: the second time, he adds to the bridge "You're the leaky sink of sentiment / You're the failed attempts I never could forget / You're all the metaphors I can't create / To comprehend this curse that I call love." It's as if he's talking himself out of this love right before our eyes. Don't we all know men like this? In particular I'm thinking of a friend (ex-friend) who's just sidled out of a marriage he never deserved in the first place, who's still madly spinning his position to anyone who'd listen. Un-frigging-believable.
Well, I for one eat up songs like this, songs that give us a little meat to chew on. Motion City Soundtrack is the sort of band that gives emo a good name. (Though I doubt MCS would call themselves an emo band.) The cliches are beside the point; this is real-life stuff. Sons of Paul indeed.
Hold Me Down sample