Motion City Soundtrack’s (MCS) sixth studio album, “Panic Stations,” set sail via Epitaph Records on Sept. 18, 2015. As a follow up to “Go,” the new album is nautical-themed musical excellence at its finest, with many of its 11 songs referencing water and the ocean—but can a plethora of anchor references stop “Panic Stations” from sinking in the wake of “Go’s” unforgettable, metaphorical depth?
“Go,” was what many consider a logical progression from the band’s pop-punk roots. MCS recorded “Panic Stations” live in its entirety at Underbelly North Studio, the very same studio where Nirvana’s “In Utero” was recorded. Considering the nature of its recording, “Panic Stations” manages to feel more like a “B-sides and Rarities” mix than full album. This newfound rawness adds to its charm and makes it reminiscent of MCS’ 2002 cult-classic, “I Am the Movie.”
In an interview with Music Feeds, MCS lead-guitarist Josh Caine attributes this change in sound direction to “[wanting] to capture the live show feeling and energy of playing live.” A noble objective, but as we all know, the worst part of any live show is poor sound direction. The album opens with “Anything At All,” a song that chronicles the struggle of trying to be yourself around someone who has grown bored of your involvement in their life. As such, it is the perfect opener that sounds exactly like something you would expect from Motion City Soundtrack. Moving forward, the album serves as a bombardment of constant reminders that change – for better or worse – is inevitable in all aspects of life.
In 2013, Tony Thaxton, Motion City Soundtrack’s drummer of 11 years, decided to leave the band due to the demoralizing art of touring taking its toll on him. Tony’s innovative drumming, which distanced itself from the conform, is audibly missed in “Panic Stations” – becoming most apparent once “Lose Control” drifts around with its reliance on electric drums that struggle to light a spark. However, for the most part, new drummer Claudio Rivera (previously with Saves the Day) does a fine job of emulating Thaxtion’s style while seamlessly incorporating his own.
When compared to previous albums, “Panic Stations” feels like the most heavy and polished–but also the most diluted, thanks to an overwhelming level of distortion on most of its tracks. Frontrunner Justin Pierre’s vocals feel drowned out instead of at the forefront where they belong. In addition, Pierre’s quirky wordiness spends most of the album lost at sea. When his voice does surface, he has to fight against the torrent to make his presence known.
Pierre is no stranger to self-destruction, but this time he brings everyone along for the ride. If there is an overall reason or moral to the audio inconsistencies rampantly prominent in “Panic Stations, it serves as a reminder that not being alone can be every bit as destructive as solidary confinement. “We’ve all had our battles with darkness and shadows,” Pierre puts it in “It’s a Pleasure to Meet You.” By finally realizing that none of us are truly alone in our daily struggles, “It’s a Pleasure…” takes the stage as one of the album’s strongest tracks. Although we find energetic solace in this song, we soon revert into a state of childish despair in “Over it Now.”
Easily considered the weakest of the bunch, “Over it Now” regresses the band into a state of childlike innocence. “I kicked around in the big bad world / After you sold all my action figures / I never got in that one last word / So here’s a fuck you,” dramatically contrasts the open arms acceptance of “It’s a Pleasure…” by relying heavily on the “blame game” we find ourselves playing in our younger years post-breakup.
If “Go” raised the sail to full mast, but “Panic Stations” is the wind that blows the band into uncharted territory. An undiscovered continent is on the horizon, but the indecisiveness of “Panic Stations” prevents it from being the ship that gets the Minneapolian quintet ashore.
1. Anything At All
3. I Can Feel You
4. Lose Control
5. Heavy Boots
6. It’s A Pleasure To Meet You
7. Over It Now
8. Broken Arrow
10. The Samurai Code
11. Days Will Run Away