From My Dinosaur Life‘s title and artwork, it should be pretty clear that this record’s a little different from the rest of Motion City Soundtrack‘s current output. While each of their albums has its own character, this one falls further from the rest, and that’s perfectly okay. It takes the band’s quirkiness and turns it up. It’s a little louder. I’d argue it’s a lot more fun. Full of fantastic instrumentals, melodies, and lyrics, it’s a pop-rock band writing brilliant pop-rock, and, for me, it’s been a huge part of the soundtrack to every summer since it’s release. This is the perfect time of year for a record like this, so give it a spin and let me tell you about the anomalous beauty that is My Dinosaur Life.
From the opening of “Worker Bee,” it’s clear that the band set out with a purpose. Slow, heartfelt, melodious lyrics give way to upbeat guitars and driving drums that propel the track forward to kick the record off in exactly the right way. “A Lifeless Ordinary (Need A Little Help)” continues forward with that energy, with a bit more pop thrown into the mix. Although the lyrics are moderately depressing, this is the most upbeat call for help that I can think of, with buoyantly pulsing instrumentation, fantastic melodies throughout, and the line “I think I can figure it out” featuring prominently in the chorus. The vocal layering in the bridge is brilliant, and the change of texture makes for a well-balanced track. In what might be a source of subject matter for the previous song, “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” keeps up the pace and continues the quality quality, mixing quirky lyrics with more emotional ones in classic Motion City Soundtrack fashion. The buildup to the third minute of the song might be the best moment on the whole album, and the strength of the chorus is exactly what made this such a great lead single back when the record came out.
My personal first taste of My Dinosaur Life was the darker “Disappear,” which serves to add a little variety to the record. Though the synth’s a little low in the mix, it plays a big part in the atmosphere of the track, alongside the dissonant guitar chords and harshness of the vocals, all blending to create a fantastic song. The flipside to this track is the more positive-sounding bit of insanity that is “Delirium.” Keeping up with the insect metaphors and descriptions of personal problems, it’s a wonderful piece of songwriting, particularly when the bridge hits. It’s not rare for a bridge to get stuck in my head, but it’s rare for one to hit as hard as this one does and still be that catchy. Slightly more straightforward in terms of structure, “History Lesson” has the feel of a basic rock song and gets a little repetitive. If there was a track I’d have cut from the record, it would’ve been this one.
Luckily, the band’s able to bring back the pop-rock brilliance with the injection of sincerity that is the earnest acoustic-driven “Stand Too Close.” Full of melodies that would have felt more than home on Commit This To Memory, it’s a well-crafted song that might have fared exceptionally well on the radio if it hit the waves at just the right time. Synth-heavy “Pulp Fiction” was my least favorite song on the record on the first few records, but it’s got a certain charm the reeled me in over time. The lyrics might not be for everyone, but it’s full of great guitar parts, fantastic drums, and endlessly catchy hooks. Keeping up the synth, quirky lyrics, and fun, the unpronounceable “@!#?@!” (I think I got that right) somehow makes the phrase “sensitive homeboys” a thing, fits in wonderful vocalizations and snaps, and ends on a simple “word.” It’s got just enough swagger to make it work.
“Hysteria” is one of the more instrumental-driven tracks on the record, though it’s got one hell of a chorus and a few gems throughout the verses. With that in mind, it’s full of great guitar and synth parts, and pulls the album in a slightly more serious direction while maintaining the energy of the previous two songs before making way for “Skin And Bones,” which is another callback to the feel of Commit This To Memory. It has plenty of room to breathe and contemplate, and adds some good balance to the record. The drums really shine through, and there’s a nice long section of vocal layering right in the middle. It’s one of the best-written pieces on the album from a structural standpoint, and makes for a great counterpoint to the lighter points of the record. Closer “The Weakends” maintains the serious side of things, though in a manner more akin to “Disappear” than to “Skin And Bones.” With its overall brooding nature, the chorus maintains a singalong quality that counteracts the weight of the rest of the track in the way this band does best.
Though many will herald Commit This To Memory as Motion City Soundtrack’s best work (while purist O.G. hipsters will still cling to the debut), this is the one that just stuck for me. There’s a certain energy, a certain excitement, and it makes everything just feels natural. Although the band’s earlier work was perfectly good in its own way, it always had that feeling that they were trying very hard to create something worthwhile, something (mostly) serious, something intelligent. With My Dinosaur Life, the aforementioned excitement makes this record stand out from the rest. Everything’s still well-constructed and intelligent, but those qualities come through in a way that sounds more enjoyable, as if each line was sung with a smile, or at least a smirk. There are still those hints of pessimism throughout, and there are still the serious tracks that will remind listeners of the earlier work, but the record gives the impression that it was a pleasure to make. It doesn’t feel pressured, overwrought, or over-thought. It’s wonderful pop-rock that suits the band even better than their “best” work, and it stands as proof that you don’t have to take everything seriously to write some seriously great music.