2/02/2005

The soundtrack to saying goodbye.

These first days after a breakup are always the hardest. Today is a day off for me, and when I wake up this morning I can't see a single goddamn reason to get out of bed. At least in bed, I can curl up in the blankets and feel some sort of enveloping warmth, feel like I'm held and surrounded by something. Getting up to face the cold, unforgiving morning has no appeal--what's the point? Life is feeling cold and unforgiving enough from right here in bed. Only weeks before, there was someone there with me, and now I have to face the fact that, barring some miracle, she'll never be here again.
Maybe I'll just sleep all day.
Motion City Soundtrack's debut album, "I Am The Movie," came out of nowhere for me only a week or so ago and immediately made itself the prime candidate for breakup album of the year. It wasn't what I'd expected--I'd heard their song "The Future Freaks Me Out" over last summer and enjoyed it, but thought of them as more of a silly fun pop band than anything that could ever have any real emotional impact upon me. Turns out that "The Future Freaks Me Out" is not but so typical of the album--there's a real bittersweet quality to a lot of the songs, which combine minor chord melodies and heartfelt vocals with anthemic choruses and lyrics that often hit close to home. The overall tone of the album is a wistful longing for something that's past, that's gone now. They were happy times, and they're happy memories, but it hurts to realize that those times are gone, as well as the relationships that were a big part of making them so great. This is the sound of someone trying to gather himself back together and move on, no matter how hard it is.
OK, I'll give you that that narrative fits certain songs on the album a lot better than others, and that there's a great deal of my own feelings superimposed on the rather vague structure actually provided by the songs here. So sue me. The point is, it's getting me through. The lyrics have enough humor at times to make me smile even when things aren't going well, and the melodies lift my heart even when the words are at their saddest. What actually blows my mind the most is that these guys make extensive use of that cheesy 80s keyboard/synth sound--you know the one: where every note you press on the keyboard is just a different variation on the sound "eeeeee" (unless it's a low note, at which point you get more of an "oooo"). Keyboard sounds like this are most identified these days with The Cars, or maybe Weezer, and are probably 80% of the reason I hate every record I've ever heard by Reggie and the Full Effect. But here, it works. It's tasteful, never overdone and never too high in the mix, and that's part of it, but another part of it is just that Motion City Soundtrack's music combines well with the sound. It fits their riffs really well. The best song here is probably the final one, "A-OK." It's got the best chorus on the album, and does a great job of leaving you on a hopeful note, despite all the inherent sadness of the lyrics. "Someday you'll understand that everything is A-OK," they sing. I hope I do.
On the plane back from London, I try to sleep, but I can't. I'm too distraught, too emotionally fucked up... and I can't figure out how to recline the seat. So I doze a bit due to the motion sickness medicine, and I choke down some of the airline food, and I turn the same tape over and over in my walkman the whole way home. There's this beautiful blond girl sitting next to me, and when I do briefly talk to her, all I can talk about is how upset I am that things didn't go very well during my reunion with my long-distance girlfriend. She is empathetic, telling me stories of her own London trip to see a former boyfriend who never wanted to commit, and still doesn't. It was hard, she says, because she still has feelings for him, but it's just not the same as it was before he left. I try in my head to pretend that this doesn't sound uncomfortably familiar.
Fall Out Boy are a bunch of former hardcore kids (including an ex-member of Race Traitor, of all bands) who play upbeat, melodic punk tunes with incredibly depressing lyrics. Singing along with lines like, "Let's play this game called 'when you catch fire, I wouldn't piss to put you out'" can be a bit disconcerting, but in the end it fits--this isn't the kind of record you find yourself digging out when everything's going wonderfully. This is definitely an emo record.
You know, I used to really hate pop-punk. To me, the genre name immediately called forth images of bands on Fat Wreck Chords who sang about coffee and not wanting to take showers, did too many joke covers of old 70s MOR hits, and put out millions of albums that all sounded exactly the same. I liked The Descendents, but it seemed like their followers completely missed the point about what had made that band so great in the first place. However, somewhere along the line, things changed. I started to like pop-punk again, and I can't help but think that the transition for me was about the same point when everyone started to call the new pop-punk bands "emo". I fought this categorization for as long as possible--to me, "emo" was something completely different. It was more like the hardcore bands I'd been into in the early-to-mid-90s who started playing longer and slower songs but still screamed and pounded their instruments, but now also tended to collapse onto the stage in tears at the end of sets (and had lyrics that reflected the fact that they were likely to do so). Then there came a point when I realized--hey, even when I was in the thick of that music scene, I'd resisted the term "emo". It always seemed like an insult, so why worry if it was applied to a different genre now than before? In fact, why fear the term "emo" at all?
And so, for the past year or so, I haven't been at all afraid to admit that I really enjoy that hideous beast known as "emo", no matter how big it gets. When Taking Back Sunday's second album debuted at number 3 on the Billboard charts, I was proud to have contributed to that statistic. And when I saw a Fall Out Boy video on Fuse that I enjoyed, I went right out and bought the album.
"Take This To Your Grave" is not exactly the smartest thing to listen to when flying back from an international reunion with a lover that has gone badly, especially with the future of that love in doubt. What can I say? Perhaps I am a masochist. All I know is that it was all I could stand to hear. Underneath the "emo" categorization, this is without a doubt a pop-punk record. However, it's not anything like NOFX and Rancid. Perhaps the difference here is that these guys are combining hardcore influences with radio pop hooks and a definite historical awareness of "emo" in all its permutations, because unlike all of those old Fat Wreck Chords bands, this record doesn't start to get boring at any point. Singer Patrick Stump sounds like Dave Smalley during his tenure with Down By Law at some points, while crooning like Justin Timberlake at others. At times the guitarists use undistorted or even acoustic hooks to add melodic textures, but they are also gifted with the ability to make occasional judicious use of a mosh riff. Fall Out Boy are never any one thing in particular, but they always create an irresistible combination. And then to layer it with lyrics like, "I know I should be home--all the colors of the street signs just remind me of the pickup truck in front of your neighbor's house..." Well, I didn't cry in front of that girl on the plane, but it was a near thing. A very near thing.
For the last couple of days before I flew to London, I was at my parents' house. It was Christmas time, and in addition to all the excitement around that, I was supposed to be excited to be flying to another country. My parents were encouraging me to see as much of the place as possible, to make sure I did touristy stuff since I'd never been there before and who knew when I would be again. I barely heard them--I was so nervous I felt like I was going to throw up every other minute. She and I had barely spoken all week, and when we had, she sounded distant. I wanted to believe that seeing her would make it all better, but I couldn't help but sense impending doom.
I doubt I ever would have bothered checking out Race The Sun's first full-length, "The Rest of Our Lives Is Tonight" (the title of which is grammatically correct, though I wasn't sure at first), if it weren't for the fact that I've known most of the band since they were still in high school. Back when my band was still going strong, they were kids from the suburbs that came to all the shows, some of whom were in bands of their own that would play shows with us. That definitely informs some of my response to their album--for example, Daniel's rather high singing voice would be an interesting feature of their sound to anyone, but my specific reaction is to think about how weird it is, because his speaking voice is lower than mine. But really, this is not one of those cases where you listen because it's "my friend's band", and deep inside know that if you didn't know the guys in the band you wouldn't really dig the music nearly as much. No, this is just a great album.
Race The Sun, it must be admitted, are taking quite a bit of what they're doing from early Saves The Day. The fact that the band names are somewhat similar is not nearly as much of a coincidence as it could be. That said, though, Saves The Day have gone a long way from the sort of thing they were doing on "Can't Slow Down" (which makes sense considering that everyone on that album except the singer has since left the band), and Race The Sun have themselves gone far enough from it to make it their own, taking what Saves The Day started with and going in a different direction than the one in which they've since progressed. "The Rest of Our Lives Is Tonight" is chock full of poppy hooks and awesome vocal melodies, and once again the hardcore background of the band members shines through in their ability to utilize palm-muted chords and mosh parts, even the occasional scream, to create heaviness when it's necessary. Most of the time, though, the band lays down driving, uptempo melodic riffs for Daniel to smear his voice all over. It's truly a singular and dynamic instrument he's gifted with--where a lot of "emo" (pop-punk?) singers are left with only a limited range, due to the kind of high-end note progressions that are most popular in that genre, Daniel still has tons of room to sing all around the main riffs. The kind of high notes he can hit are perhaps unequaled in all of the emo records I've heard. For example, on the chorus to "Paperweights and Coffee Stains", he starts the vocal part at a high point, and by the second line has hit a stratospherically high range. And instead of being cheesy--as it could have, in less capable hands--it has the effect of lifting your spirits along with his voice, bringing you up out of whatever doldrums you may be in and making everything seem like it just might turn out fine. This record isn't like the last two I've discussed, with the lyrics that keep me uncomfortably aware of just how rough life is right now. This is a record to use as a pick-me-up, a record to play when you're driving down the road on a sunny day and trying to forget all of your troubles. It will help.
I feel like I might, by being vague, be doing her a disservice here. I'm uncomfortably aware of the fact that I'm engaging in what I've always found to be the lot of the creative artist--airing one's dirty emotional laundry in the most public of ways. I've never been one to be in favor of artistic obfuscation, either. I just go ahead and say what I'm thinking, whatever that may be at that moment, and let the chips fall where they may. I'm trying to work through my demons, and this is what seems to work best for me. However, I do still love her, despite all of the bad things that have gone down, and despite all of the perfectly valid reasons we had for breaking up. I may seem like a victim from the bits I've given you here, but the truth is far more complicated. The breakup was mutual--we both had our reasons for feeling like it wasn't working. Then again, we also were both still very much in love with each other. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if she's also been having trouble getting up in the morning, and also finding herself crying at odd moments. We tried our hardest, but it just doesn't seem like it would work right now, no matter what we did. The really hard thing for me is that I almost don't want to get over it--I feel like there's a very good chance that she and I could have a healthy relationship at some further point down the line, when both of us have matured some. I feel sure that some remnant of feelings that we've felt over the time we were together will last forever in our hearts. If it comes down to it, and it's not in the cards for us ever to be anything more than friends, then I hope we can at least be friends, very good ones. But of course, right now I still hold out hope that things will change as we get older, and that we will find ourselves together again. Because I love her, and I know she loves me too.
I almost spent $6 on a Taking Back Sunday 7 inch single the other day. The B-side was a non-LP track, but when I listened to it, it was a schmaltzy piano ballad that I just couldn't see myself ever listening to. That just left the A-side, "A Decade Under the Influence," which I already have on my copy of "Where You Want To Be." I still considered it, but ultimately felt like it would be a waste of money, no matter how cool I would find it as an artifact. It's one of the best songs of last year, but I think I'll always associate it the most with my most recent ill-starred love affair. I've already discussed it in detail elsewhere, but it bears mentioning just how much I'm still seeing myself and my struggles with my current situation in that song, especially that drawn-out, mournful/painful ending. It's almost like that one Smiths song, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore." It's too close to home, it's too near the bone, and I just can't separate from it enough to be objective. At this point I'm barely hanging on.
I've got it bad.
I've got it bad.
I've got it bad...
I know that this will get better in time. "This too shall pass," my mother always used to say. But right now, it almost feels better to just sit here, play these records over and over, and hold onto this feeling, for better or for worse. I may feel terrible, but at least I know I can feel something. At least I know that I can still love.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Aspen said...

Great post, I love your writing. Everything you said really hit home with the way I felt after this one breakup. I will definitely check out these new groups; I love all the other ones you suggested. And I didn't know what it was about Fall Out Boy's sound I liked so much, thanks for the history. I've read all of your posts over the last two months or so, and I always wander back here to see if anything new has transpired since time last. Keep up the good work.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous hoffa said...

hey...motion city coundtrack also had a 2-song 7" called "promenade," and they self-released "i am the movie" before epitaph picked them up. it came in a hollowed out 5-inch floppy disk and featured 2 fewer tracks. they also had a self-released CDEP that featured 5 songs. 3 of them ended up re-recorded on the split CD with schatzi (back to the beat, capital h, throw down), and i'm not sure if the other 2 were ever on anything else. all worth checking out, though the 7" sounds way different.

1:00 PM  
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9:53 PM  

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