There are certain albums that represent milestones in people’s musical development. Ones that trigger a rush of nostalgia more powerful than just the simple recollection of a memory. There are a couple that I can think of off the top of my head that bring me back to a time and a place, but none more powerfully than Motion City Soundtrack’s 2007 LP, Even if it Kills Me. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of the band before this. I was just starting to develop my own taste in music. I wasn’t quite over my Metallica phase and not quite ready to throw myself headfirst into any of the scenes I eventually would in High School. I was in sixth grade, I had yet to get my first guitar, and the two bands dominating my SanDisk MP3 player were Green Day and Fall Out Boy.
Based on those two bands alone, you can assume that my music listening was still largely radio-based. It was before my friends and I would regularly swap CD’s and the idea of being able to share playlists with each other over the internet was too far in the future to even be a thought. It really was a surprise to stumble upon a band I had never heard about, making music I fell head-over-heels for.
Maybe stumble isn’t entirely accurate. I was actually in Rochester, NY, which seemed like an eternity away from my home on the South Shore of Massachusetts, visiting some family friends (by now I just consider them family). My “cousin” Chris and I had plans to spend the day together while everyone else was busy, and we started the day with a fateful trip to the mall. We dropped by the FYE there and he picked up two CDs for his car: We Sing We Dance We Steal Things by Jason Mraz, and Even if it Kills Me by Motion City Soundtrack. We spent the weekend out there listening to EIIKM on repeat, and Chris burned me my own copy of the album before I left. Even now, a full ten years later, it’s impossible for me to hear any of those songs without being immediately and totally transferred back to those car rides.
It’s no small wonder why I love it so much. Even if it Kills Me is Motion City Soundtrack’s poppiest and arguably, most accessible record. The sugary sweet melodies and crystal-clear production rope you in and hold on tight throughout all 13 songs. “Fell in Love Without You’s” false-orchestra start gives way to double time guitar drum and synthesizer intro that acts as a shot in the arm, waking you up and preparing you for all that’s yet to come. While “This is For Real’s” melodrama and heart-on-sleeve nature would come to define my middle and early high-school relationships.
“It Had to be You” is another banger, the guitar and synthesized piano intro expresses a sense of melancholy that runs underneath the surface of the song, underneath the angst of lyrics that beg the person on the receiving end to share in the narrator’s grand vision for a relationship with his best friend.
“Last Night” and “Calling All Cops” are the mid-album, mid-tempo pop-emo numbers, both of which are vocally-driven and fairly straightforward. “Can’t Finish What You Started” picks up the tempo a bit, and when the chorus comes in, the drums drop back to half time and the guitars pan out to create a huge, bouncy, soundscape. It sounds like so many of the best parts of 2007 pop-rock, which makes the crash that much harder when “The Conversation” (the band’s first ever piano ballad) starts.
Lead Single “Broken Heart” picks things back up again with simple lyrics over palm-muted guitars and another gargantuan sounding chorus. “Hello Helicopter” touches on something a bit more political, which may have been a risk in 2007, but in 2017 seems like just the kind of song that’s needed.
The album ends on what I believe is the best four-song stretch in the band’s career. The manic-depressive “Where I Belong” is an honest look at the self in song form, starting with a casual “Hello there, how you doin’ / I’ve got all these thoughts just floating through my brain.” It gives way to album high-point “Point of Extinction” whose reverb-drenched guitar whine signals the beginning of a song that will probably forever be in my playlists. The fast paced lyrical acrobatics, pounding drums and guitar, and synthesizer sheen just do things to me.
“Antonia” is a cute-if-not-kitschy ode to a partner that I’m sure will be played at my wedding, and album closer “Even if it Kills Me” is a culmination of everything that has come before it. It’s catchy all the way through, has a huge chorus, and lyrically is holds up ten years after I first heard it.
Since 2007, this album, and indeed Motion City Soundtrack, has managed to stay with me. It’s been relevant to my life through middle school, high-school, and remains so even now as I gear up to finish my college career. The band never really went as poppy as it did for Even if it Kills Me again, and I think that manages to make the record even more special for those of us that love it so. It’s a 13 song culmination of a young life and all the feelings of drama, depression, and joy that come with it. While they may never have hit the billboard topping heights of some of their contemporaries, I think that Motion City Soundtrack is unparalleled in their genre for crafting the kind of honest and upbeat music found on this album.