Released September 3rd, 2021 on Bobo Integral, We Are Time and Debt Offensive Records
Canada: Order from Debt Offensive Records - debtoffensiverecords.bandcamp.com/album/surrounded
USA: Order from We Are Time - motoristswearetime.bandcamp.com/album/surrounded
Rest of the world: Order from Bobo Integral - bobointegral.bandcamp.com
Driving is a huge part of rock and roll’s enduring mythology. Images of cruising down the highway with friends and lovers while basking in the freedom of the open road pervade pop music’s lyrical canon. Yet, so often, these idealized images clash with the everyday drudgery of being a motorist: traffic jams, detours, and bad news on the radio.
This tension is central to Motorists’ debut LP, Surrounded—an album that is as much about the colourful possibilities of life as it is about the way those possibilities are boxed in by technologies. It’s clear that, for the band, creative collaboration is the only way to break the tension. In a world where everyone’s been in their own bubble, Motorists have pushed theirs together and worked through feelings of isolation as a group, to the tune of jangly guitars, infectious power pop hooks, and a steady motorik beat. The result is an album full of revelations about what it means to be together, and how bad you want it when you’re being torn apart..
Craig Fahner, Matt Learoyd, and Jesse Locke’s paths have intertwined for a long time. They’ve played together as Motorists for three years, but have been in and out of various projects together since their teenage years. Craig’s previous bands include Feel Alright and Leather Jacuzzi, while Jesse plays with Tough Age, Simply Saucer, and Chandra, with whom he runs the label We Are Time. They also share an eclectic mix of influences from post-punk to power pop to krautrock. Fans of R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, and Sloan will recognize Motorists’ economic, vocal-driven pop devotion.
Title track “Surrounded” captures the band’s collective feeling at the start of the COVID lockdown. The song’s narrator, increasingly fed up with the trappings of their surroundings, hops from place to place in an effort to get away from it all. But where on Earth do you go when you feel like there’s “too much water” and “too much land”? “It’s about the impossibility of being alone with one’s self,” Fahner says, “since we ultimately construct ourselves within a phenomenological bubble full of some stuff we have chosen and some stuff we have no control over.” Eventually, the narrator ends up back where they started, but the journey comes with a realization that removing yourself from your frustrations only leaves you less equipped to deal with them when hiding is no longer an option.
“Vainglorious” deals with feelings of alienation in a different way, examining them through a political lens. Superficially, the people in charge might say all the right things to make you feel comfortable, while actively working against your best interests in practice. “We have seen the work that is actually done from the front lines to make things better for vulnerable people while our representatives do absolutely nothing, and yet they continue to congratulate themselves as progressive leaders,” Fahner says, recounting the failures of Canada’s national and local politicians. Wondering out loud how one could stand to live such a paradoxical life and stand for nothing, these do-nothings are designated with the biblical sin of vainglory—“all of the pride, none of the substance.”
A sort of idealistic counterbalance to “Surrounded,” “Through to You” draws back the dark curtain of solitude to let in some sunshine. It’s a song about yearning to connect with other people, written during the first lockdown springtime, when hope for a bit of familiarity was starting to blossom. The desire to feel close to someone without having to speak a word is expressed beautifully—both lyrically as a feeling of “flowing through the veins of another heart,” and musically with the brightest jangly melodies on the album and a wistfully sweet vocal.
Surrounded touches on these feelings in a kaleidoscope of other ways, too. The isolating effects of technology are personified in the uncanny valley of artificial intelligence—things that mess with our heads because they feel real, even though they’re not—or the walled gardens that tech companies raise around us to limit our choices in exchange for minor convenience. It’s an album about modern living and, as Fahner succinctly describes, “isolation in a technologically-saturated society, laden with romanticism around radical togetherness.”
Motorists offer up a window into their hearts during a strange time, with an honest, earnest approach to their songwriting sorely missed since the days of college rock. Surrounded shines a spotlight on the ennui of going through the motions, but it’s not without solutions either—these songs remind us that technology exists within the boundaries of human knowledge, and there’s still more to know beyond the lines that have been drawn. There are also plenty of hopeful reminders that the flip side of feeling alone is the ever-present potential to be reunited with what you’re missing.
- Shy Thompson
released September 3, 2021