A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the High Hopes LP by Like A Motorcycle.
There are few scenes that appear in motion pictures which are more worrisome than those where light explodes on the screen and after the camera’s focus adjusts, viewers realize they’re staring up from the floor of the trunk of a car. The reason that image is disarming is because the trunk is a small space – it is incredibly confined and exists as a sort of unknown void; with no windows, one never knows where they may arrive when they get out of the trunk of a car. Also, as anyone who has ever ridden in the trunk of a car can tell you, riding in the trunk of a car isn’t particularly safe because it regularly gets flooded with carbon monoxide so those who ride in there often at least find themselves dizzy and light-headed when they get out and, let’s be frank, some riders lose consciousness and may die in there. All of that knowledge quickly springs to mind as soon as one lays eyes on the cover of Like A Motorcycle’s debut album, High Hopes. Tingles of looming mania manifest as those who look note the baseball bat in bassist Kim Carson’s hand – what’s to come from this record? This band is from Halifax, after all – the birthplace of band’s like Sloan, Joel Plaskett Emergency, April Wine, The Burdocks and Thrush Hermit – a group of roughnecks among that list is both odd and unsettling.
Careful – sometimes what you see is precisely what you get, reader. After you sink a needle into this record and it begins to play, you’re going for a ride – but you might not know where to. You might feel inclined to buckle up, but you can’t; there are no safety belts in the trunk, you’re at Like A Motorcycle’s mercy for at least fifteen minutes. Thirty-one if you’re feeling limber and run through both sides of the vinyl.
Listeners will find themselves caught both unaware and unprepared as a fuzzed-out bass line scorches their eardrums at the opening of “Hands.” The sound is not a completely unfamiliar one – bassists like Steven McDonald (OFF!, Redd Kross) and Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers, Melvins) and any number of other punk bands have been making great use of it for years – but that it is the first thing listeners are hit with and a massive one at that is more than a little creepy. There they’ll sit as the sound accosts them, unable to/afraid to move and, when guitarists kt lamond and Jillian Comeau and drummer/singer Michelle Skelding enter the frame a few bars later, the sound will appear that much more imposing but listeners won’t be able to disengage themselves from that bass. Like a mouse which suddenly becomes aware that it is being stalked by a cat, that’s where listeners’ focus will remain: on that bass, for all of the one hundred and ninety-seven second it takes for “Hands” to play out.
After “Hands” releases its grip, listeners may find they’re still unable to avert their eyes until the small, perfectly natural sound of feedback opens the song (read: it wasn’t just added for effect – it exists here as a result of the volume at that moment from an amplifier), and then the whole band just pounces on them with “Dead Fingers.” The way it sounds, listeners will be made believers that THIS is the product of Like A Motorcycle in peak form: the guitars, bass and drums all collide with a completely grainy clamor guaranteed to get pulses racing while Skelding’s unhinged howl echoes the voices of Riot Grrrl greats like Kathleen Hanna, Donita Sparks and Selene Vigil in its power and acerbic bite. Simply put, “Dead Fingers” plays out like anything but and sinks its hooks deep into listeners before dragging them along mercilessly into “Southern States” – which lightens up slightly but does not lower its lips out of a spiteful sneer. After that, the album’s title track (which is less raw aggression and more noir-ish haunt) keeps that vibe moving before finally resting into the brilliantly malevolent Riot Grrrl rock of “Into The Night.”
The only way to accurately characterize “Into The Night” is to say that, if it somehow does not become a calling card anthem which does not encapsulate the spirit of Like A Motorcycle as they exist in this early turn of their career, the band hides it incredibly well. Here, after the guitar sputters to life and the bass swims in with all the menace of an eight-foot shark, Skelding issues the bluntest kiss-off I’ve hear in popular song in years with the words “I don’t love you, I never did/ I made it all up – so sue me” with perfectly detached disgust that many male listeners may have to check and make sure their testicles haven’t shrivelled to the size of raisins after they hear it. The perfectly calm fury is just unbelievable. She’s not done yet though – without missing a beat, Skelding goes on to ensure that her male offender knows that her life will continue without him and she really doesn’t care if he comes, stays, lays or prays anymore before simply repeating the title lyric over and over like a calming mantra. To say that the power of this song and the perfectly managed fury contained within it is haunting doesn’t even begin to do “Into The Night” justice; it is equally hypnotic and visceral and, when it does end, listeners are sure to be at the ready to flip the record and begin the B-side immediately. Those who go front-to-back with the A-side just won’t be able to leave it there.
And, while the B-side does begin with the greatest fly in the High Hopes ointment (“Great Escape” leads off like a meek and wishy-washy Bif Naked B-side – and that inadvertently doe Bif Naked B-sides a grave injustice), it quickly recovers with the marshal rhythm-driven sure hit “Nobody Knows” (which has a really good shot at being my favorite song on the album) and then holding that sparkle for the perfectly coy ear-bleeder, “Punk One.”
True, while the energy level does dip right at the top of the B-side and listeners may have a fair bit of difficulty forgetting that as it surges along thereafter, the other three songs more than make up for that foible and the closer, “Stains and Burns,” lays out some great bait to get listeners in for repeated trips through this running as well as getting early interest up for what might come next. “Stains and Burns” begins with some comparatively levelheaded posturing before the energy of the “stains and the burns and the caffeine urns” takes over and throws the song over the top like a flaming mixture of gasoline and frozen orange juice (a.k.a. “homemade napalm”) and then just seeming to slam the side shut. No number of positive comments do the B-side closer the correct service – it’s just unbelievable and a great surety that multiple listens of High Hopes are a must among those who run front-to-back with it.
The above dialogue may seem unbelievably positive, but it doesn’t say enough about this album, reader. High Hopes isn’t just the first album by Like A Motorcycle, isn’t just great and doesn’t just mark a turn away from the popular ideas which have sustained the Halifax music scene for the last quarter-century, although it does all of those things. High Hopes marks the entry of the first great predator into the poppy waters of East Coast Canada in years. Forget what you think you know, Like A Motorcycle stand poised to change it all; as High Hopes proves, they’re out for blood.