#1 - Jack's Mannequin
Everything in Transit (Maverick)
Like Commit This to Memory, the debut album from Jack's Mannequin feels like an intimate journey of self-discovery. Jack's Mannequin is the side-project of Andrew McMahon, lead singer of piano-punk band Something Corporate. After that band's so-so 2003 album North, McMahon took some time off to collect himself and just live his young life. He returned home to California to find that life had changed since he became a recording artist, and that relationships had suffered in the process. McMahon got the itch to write about it and decided to hook up with producer Jim Wirt to commit them to tape. With the band on a break, McMahon enlisted other musicians to flesh out the work, and eventually decided to release it as an album. Everything in Transit details this difficult transitional period and is both affecting and exhilirating. Lead single "The Mixed Tape" is a fierce rebuttal to a past lover: "As I rearrange the songs again/I swear to God this mix could sink the sun/but it was you I was thinking of." Lyrically, the songs are much stronger than anything McMahon recorded in Something Corporate. The former angst has been replaced by raw emotion, which also comes through in his more expressive vocals. The artistic freedom gained by going solo has also been applied in the general tone of the album, with songs drawing from varied inspirations. "Miss Delaney" is definitely a Californian song, recalling a Beach Boys vibe of sorts. "Kill the Messenger" employs a sitar to back up the closing lines, as McMahon swears to "send a little rain your way." Though recorded before McMahon was diagnosed with leukemia, you want to believe that specific lyrics are alluding to his situation. But what that really speaks to is the universality of the message. While his lyrics are assumedly self-descriptive, they're easily applied to our own situations, being both smart and simple enough for the process to take place. Like my second-favorite album of 2005, Everything in Transit is a personal, yet universally appealing record that takes you on a journey you'll want to take over and over again.
Key Tracks: "Kill the Messenger," "Bruised," "The Mixed Tape"
#2 - Motion City Soundtrack
Commit This to Memory (Epitaph)
"I'm so full of love/it deeply sickens me."
I can relate. Motion City Soundtrack dropped a stunner of an album this summer in the form of Commit This to Memory, the follow up to their 2003 debut, I Am the Movie. Produced by Mark Hoppus (formerly of blink-182), the record takes all the good from their debut (intensity, strong lyrics) and removes all the bad (over-emphasis on synth, lack of consistency). What remains is the epic tale of a loser: drunk, strung-out, obsessive, terrible with the ladies. As we stumble with him through his journey, we connect the lyrics to our own lives, finding parallels we wish didn't exist. The album switches between punk-pop barn-burners and atmospheric ballads of sorts. "Let's Get Fucked Up and Die," which features my favorite song title of the year, details the perils of being a drunk, having to deal with the various "what if's" that come with being a fuck-up. "'Everything's gonna be just fine'/said the bird to the power line," Justin Pierre quips in "Hangman," the climactic pre-closer that features an unadvertised lyrical cameo by Hoppus. Commit This to Memory could be the soundtrack to your life. Question is, would you want it to be? Absolutely. Despite the oft-downer lyrics, the immaculate production propels the album until the closing track, the beautiful "Hold Me Down." Rarely has misery been so enjoyable.
Key Tracks: "Let's Get Fucked Up and Die," "Hangman," "Hold Me Down"