Motion Picture Soundtrack – Departure [EP]


Originally published at Sonic Dice, September 2009.

There is barely a human who has ever lived that hasn’t found some sort of romance in the concept of death. And pretty much every creative writer, musician, filmmaker and so on recognises this. From Renaissance era works such as Romeo and Juliet to even the most disposable of Hollywood films, such as 300’s fearless affirmation of ‘tonight we dine in Hell’. In fact if you think about it, most major religions positively demand a morbid fascination with the end, a ‘suffer here, live in the afterlife’ approach. With modern nihilism and secular attitudes taking this promise away from us, what is there left to do other than romanticise death? So yeah, at any rate, Cultural Studies lecture notwithstanding, Motion Picture Soundtrack have a White Lies-esque lyrical fascination with death. These relatively dark sentiments fit well with the music’s sweeping, melodramatic feel to produce something alluringly uplifting. Aristotelian catharsis, fear and pity and all that, Cultural Studies bods.

Straight away Motion Picture Soundtrack sound comfortably familiar, with soundalikes obscured as if by the same veil (“The curtain has torn, fractured lights caress your form” is clearly a great line) that opener Departure’s lyrics reference. They aren’t immediately obvious, but with repeated listens it’s pretty obvious from where the Canterbury outfit draw their inspiration. Editors are the most obvious touchstone, recalled in Motion Picture Soundtrack’s soaring high-fretted, effects-soaked guitar lines, if not the singer’s high-ranging Johnny Borrell-ish tone. His mid-range also sounds a bit like Brandon Urie from Panic! At the Disco, but that isn’t a negative comment. That guy’s a decent enough singer to be fair, he just so happens to be annoying. And in an annoying band. Consequently, an American flavour comes through strongly here, as anyone who’s heard Armor For Sleep’s Somebody Else’s Arms may find themselves in familiar territory melody-wise. The blazing sections of white hot distortion also recall some of M83’s most shoegazeish moments in terms of ear-punishing volume. Upon the line “every time I rewind” the band take their cue to go stratospheric as if somebody has actually pushed a remote control button, they ascend to the skyline in effortlessly Matrix-like fashion.

Faults of a Realist (fantastic title) offers a slightly different proposition to Departure’s propulsive and momentum-filled drive with a more undulating structure. The affecting chorus is barrelled into the ghastly shadow of a 100-foot-tall wave’s hungry trough by ominous floor toms before the verse bobs out of the other side half-dead but still gasping. A genuine grasp of the philosophical issues behind the track’s title is suggested by the chorus line of “Nothing else is real, except the end”. This is precisely how poetic lyrics should work; the suggestion of an awareness of underlying issues rather than an explanation is commendable. Descending picked guitars in the chorus shimmer and shiver with the import of the lyrics’ ghoulish sentiments. We’re thrust back into a hailstorm of distortion which guitars and strings shine beacon-like out of, but we never quite see the other side before the track ends. What at first seemed like a breakdown is in fact the track’s outro, symbolically trapping the listener inside the song. Even musically, this is bleak stuff.

Mirrors is very different, as if the band seek to stray further and further from Departure’s initial manifesto with each track on this short EP. Whereas the lead track was immediate and forceful, the second slow-burning and intense, Mirrors is low-key and spooky. Strings quaver quietly in the background whilst formerly obscured keys are brought to the front of the mix in the verse, before an airy guitar joins in the chorus. The drops into feedback aren’t as fierce or as sheer here, and an icy atmosphere is reinforced by the unease associated with the title. Mirrors are uncanny things; we feel they show things as they are, but since everything is reversed in mirrors, surely they show everything as they are not. Looking in a mirror for too long is an eerie experience, a feeling captured by the tracks’ glassy texture. The mood changes along with the key coming out of the second chorus like the sun breaking cloud, serving as counterpoint to the line “I know one day we won’t be here, but I hope we’ll both be there”, which could be viewed alternately as unsettling or romantic. It’s certainly powerful, an effect only heightened by the intensifying music. Strings rise up in a case of ‘how long have they been there?’ from the ensuing melee towards the tracks crescendo, bringing the EP to a close as expansive as it began.

Whilst not particularly original, any band channelling M83, Editors and White Lies must be a winner by the law of averages. One critically-idolised plus two commercially-successful influences equals a can’t-fail sound. On first hearing White Lies’ morbid sentiments, I thought ‘These guys are going nowhere; who wants to hear songs about dying?’. Well, I was wrong about that once, and so see no reason why Motion Picture Soundtrack can’t break the mainstream and achieve Editors’ level of success. They’re definitely a band to watch out for, and have it all; record label deal, album out before the year’s close next month, beautifully-shot monochrome promo video for the vast skyscraping Departure, posterboy frontman. Checkity-check-check-check. However brief it is, the Departure EP is accomplished and highly addictive stuff; if Motion Picture Soundtrack can maintain this level of quality over an album’s length, nothing can stop them. They’re surely a safe bet for success in the next few months.

9 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 5 out of 6

Departure EP on Spotify
Impossible as it is to pick the best track from the EP, you’re duly encouraged to invest a few minutes in order to take in the whole thing.

End Game
Motion Picture Soundtrack on Myspace

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