Motorists Are Jangle Pop Philosophers on 'Surrounded'
Published Sep 02, 2021The first few vocal lines in Surrounded, the debut album from Toronto jangle pop wonders Motorists, are "I left the city / Too many cars / Too many creeps / Too many bars."
The opening title track is a simple indie rock tune, but absurdist in nature, with the theme of leaving populated areas that run on boxed technologies and exhaustion. No matter where frontman Craig Fahner goes, he will always be "surrounded" — by bricks, walls, grass, glass, asphalt, water. It's becoming increasingly difficult to truly escape and be alone with one's thoughts.
"Surrounded" sets off the existential paranoia mood of the album, which continues with the Johnny Marr-esque, treble-heavy electric guitar that begins "Vainglorious," an angsty number examining alienation through a political lens. The powers that be say they want what's best for the modern man, but actively work against them with policies or broken promises. Fahner is once again left with his own thoughts, and he wonders how someone can be so paradoxical, standing for nothing and everything at the same time.
The cadence of the layered vocals and guitars on Surrounded is similar to that of Motorists' predecessors, Sloan, especially their earlier work on Smeared and Twice Removed. But instead of songs about past lovers and immaturity, Motorists are using philosophical ideas as fuel for their jangly indie rock.
"Through to You" is about those first awkward conversations we all had after isolation and features some of the band's brightest melodies and calmingly sweet vocals. There's also a nice vocal nod to another one of the band's jangle rock forebears, R.E.M.
"Natural Targets" amps up the sonic intensity, exploring a sense trepidation towards emerging technology, especially with artificial intelligence changing what it means to be human. The song also contains one of the only guitar solos on the album and, though it's brief, it rips. "Walled Garden" speaks to the metaphorical and sometimes tangible walls tech companies raise up to limit our choices in exchange for fleeting moments of satisfaction.
Though the album deals with isolation during a pandemic, Surrounded would have been written regardless. Motorists think about the perils and joys of modern living and offer their point of view of this strange experience we call reality. (We Are Time/Bobo Integral/Debt Offensive)