Motion sickness that makes your knees buckle

by Beacon Staff • February 27, 2008

"What really inspires me is [Vonnegut's] writing style and his narratives in general," said lead singer and guitarist Mike Epstein in a phone interview with The Beacon.,Get out your thinking cap, because The Motion Sick are here to play with your mind. This Boston-based indie rock group provides musical social commentary by mixing pop melodies with dark, twisted lyrics written in the style of author Kurt Vonnegut.

"What really inspires me is [Vonnegut's] writing style and his narratives in general," said lead singer and guitarist Mike Epstein in a phone interview with The Beacon. "He has a very atypical approach. He reveals all the plot details immediately because the important thing is not the actual events but what's in between. He really overturned what I was used to with narrative structure."

An example of such lyrics can be found in the song "The Owls Are Not What They Seem": "Born to learn death by rote with a silver knife to your throat, the incisions are already made." Then the song continues on with, "I won't let you run, There's nowhere left to run, there is never an escape."

The band, which also includes Travis Richter on drums, bassist Matthew Girard and guitarist Patrick Mussari, released their Vonnegut-style narratives on their second CD, The Truth Will Catch You, Just Wait., on Jan. 1 of this year and held their record release party last night, Feb. 27, at The Church. Epstein said the band waited almost two months for the party so college students would be back in school and the record could get some promotion ahead of time.

"We wanted to have the show when we had success with the album rather than just saying 'Here it is!' said Epstein. "We wanted to have momentum."

The wait paid off, because now The Truth has reached #71 on the College Media Journal Top 200 and the single, "30 Lives," has reached #67 on the CMJ Independent Select Tracks Chart. Their first album, released in 2006, Her Brilliant Fifteen, also earned the band praise, including "Band of the Month" from Spin Magazine in April 2006. Currently, the band is working on getting a video for "30 Lives" played on television channels such as MTV and Fuse.

As for the new album, early tracks such as "Jean-Paul" and "Losing Altitude" have a familiar acoustic sound and toe-tapping rhythms. The historical and literary references lend an erudite quality to the music and the simple lyrics cover a huge variety of topics. For example, "Jean-Paul" is about the murder of Jean-Paul Marat, a radical French journalist and politician during the French Revolution in the 18th century. It is a relaxing, acoustic pop-rock song with a creative theme, and it is an excellent way to start off the CD.

The pop melodies make the first few songs sound happy despite the frequently pessimistic and gloomy lyrics.

"30 Lives" is perhaps not as intellectual as the others; it changes directions completely and talks about a secret video game code that gives the player 30 lives. Yet it is upbeat, amusing and rather creative. Yes, the chorus actually is "Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Select, Start."

However, later on in the CD, there is the "30 Lives (Up-Up-Down-Down Dance Mix)." The problem with this one is that it lacks energy. The original version works as a song to just enjoy, but doesn't really inspire too many spontaneous dance parties. Simply speeding up a slow song does not make it danceable. Overall, the end of the album is weak, but don't let that overshadow the tracks in the beginning-they deserve plenty of attention.

While most of the songs in the middle of the album are as likeable as the first ones, the last few tracks of the album fall a bit flat. First there is "Tiny Dog (Nobody Cries)," in which Epstein's voice becomes a little too whiny. Next, there is a cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that is mostly uninteresting. Epstein said the band chose the song to be surprising and because it had been well received at live shows. While it is always a fun experience to hear someone else's new take on an old song, this one is too plain and this cover has been done before by other bands.

Now that the CD release party is over, The Motion Sick will embark on its largest tour ever. Epstein said the band loves touring but they haven't been able to spend a lot of time on it in the past due to logistical problems. But this time everything seems to be working out and the band is prepared to visit many cities they have never played in before including a number of dates in Texas and a performance at the South by Southwest Festival.

The Motion Sick wants to shatter the facade of contemporary indie rock.

"People see the acoustic guitars and assume we sound a certain way, but we really try to break that acoustic rock mold," said Epstein,

While not every track on this album is perfect, overall the pop melodies and intelligent atmosphere make for a "brainy" band that should attract many college students. Indeed, much the same way Vonnegut himself rose above many of his peers, The Motion Sick's brand of "nerd rock" with their lyrics on history, pop culture and social issues makes their music stand out among the rest.