New Music (Motion City Soundtrack and Brendan Benson)

When I was putting together my “Best of the Decade” lists, I never got around to music.  Truth told, I’m not the guy to ask about the latest and greatest musicians.  My “new” bands are mostly a decade into their careers.  Also, a lot of my recent discoveries have not been new artists, but older ones.  That said, in the past few weeks I bought a couple albums that I thought were worth mentioning.

The first is My Old, Familiar Friend by Brendan Benson.  These days, Benson (a Detroit native) is best know for his side project with Jack White, The Raconteurs.  When you hear his solo music it’s surprising to think that this guy regularly teams up with one of the more “avante garde” popular musicians.  I say that because Benson makes classic pop-rock.  His songs are built around catchy hooks and his best songs are so instantly memorable that it’s surprising he hasn’t had the same level of success as someone like Sam Roberts. 

The new album isn’t as consistent as Lapalco, which I consider a mini-classic.  Some of the songs get repetitive (“Feel Like Taking You Home”) in ways the songs on that album didn’t.  When the album hits its high notes, though, it’s as good as anything he’s ever recorded.  The opening track, “A Whole Lot Better”, is one of my favorite songs from the last several years.  “Poised and Ready” is an example of a song that builds on a repeating hook delivered with an intensity that gives the song real energy and “Don’t Want To Talk” picks me up any time I listen to it.  The album may not be his best album, but still serves as a testament to how great pop music can be when done right.  It would be great if he finally got the level of attention he deserves.

Speaking of being just shy of hitting it big, Motion City Soundtrack released their new album, My Dinosaur Life, last week.  MCS has had a consistent problem dogging them through their career.  They’re too catchy for the “serious” music listener and too deep for the average Fall Out Boy fan.  On their first two albums, they established their ability to mix instantly memorable hooks with real content.  I thought they were poised for a real breakthrough with their third album, Even If It Kills Me, but I was disappointed when instead they embraced a more pop-oriented sound and delivered vanilla singles that were devoid of the charm and intelligence that makes them stand out.

On first listen, I though My Dinosaur Life might’ve made the same mistake (the cover art doesn’t help).  The sound is still more “pop sounding” than their earlier work, but as I listened over the last week the songs grew on me.  It dawned on me that I was listening to the most personal, confessional pop rock album since Weezer’s Pinkerton.  The lead singer, Justin Pierre, has been through all levels of heartbreak, shame, and battles with substance abuse.  He’s in the process of coming out the other side of it and is laying it out for everyone to see:
 
I didn’t think I would make it,
thought everybody was against me
all those conquered eyes
and Christmases alone.

I never gave an honest answer
But I need a lot of angry organs.
Are we copacetic? Are we behaving now?
Filling up on endless enzymes
From other peoples softly insides

All this bitterness is starting to grow cold
Encompanies an empty evening, hanging
onto complications
Sometimes quick sand has a massive appeal
To me

Those lyrics (from “A Lifeless Ordinary”) are earnest and real.  It’s the thing that sets these guys apart from the other pop-punk or emo bands they’re often lumped in with.  I’ve missed this type of music since Rivers Cuomo started writing songs with a computer program.  I would love it if this album became their big breakthrough.

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