Home Read Albums Of The Week: Motorists | Touched By The Stuff

Albums Of The Week: Motorists | Touched By The Stuff

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Inspired by the big shiny tunes flooding FM radio airwaves in the 1990s, Toronto trio Motorists go full throttle on their sophomore album. Now propelled by powerhouse drummer Nick Mckinlay, guitarist Craig Fahner and bassist Matt Learoyd channel stadium-sized power-pop through the gauzy fuzz of ‘90s alt rock, like Big Star swerving into Hotline TNT.

Touched By The Stuff hits the gas with Decider, Fahner’s voice adopting a Britpop swagger as he zigzags through strident riffs, sudden key changes, and sweet vocal coos. Back To The Q picks up speed as Learoyd sings about sinking with the ship, summoning his strength just to lose. Embers is a tender, lovelorn ballad about the breath that ignites flames, while The Folded Plan is a verbose, Tom Petty-style rocker, juxtaposing squelching electronics with trilling doo-doo-doos. L.O.W. cranks up the volume with Siamese Dream-inspired headbanger riffs, while the warbling synths and thunderous drums of Light Against The Shade close the record on a sweeter note.

“Our first record essentially emerged in the rehearsal space,” says Fahner. “It was a simpler vibe of getting together with ideas and just seeing what happened. For this album, Matt and I wrote a lot more individually and brought more composed songs. We were really feeling that early ’90s alt-rock on the radio sensibility, with sensitive power-pop that’s made to sound hit-like and huge.”

Motorists’ second album had a lengthy gestation period, written in the year following their 2021 self-produced debut, Surrounded. In the six months leading to their recording sessions for Touched By The Stuff, the band picked up the pace, with both Learoyd and Fahner barely sneaking songs under the wire. Instrumentals were recorded live off the floor, before the trio ran wild with overdubs, weaving organs, vibraphones, and handclaps into their mellifluous harmonies.

“That’s something we’re really committed to,” says Fahner, who has been singing with Learoyd since the days of their high school bands. “We both have pretty unique timbres in our voices, and every song on the album has both of us singing.” Even McKinlay gets a turn with the cinematic spoken-word passage of Barking At The Gates, written from the perspective of a dog running along the side of a highway to rescue his family from their burning home. “I tried to perform the spoken word part for a while, but my voice is nasal and a bit comical,” laughs Learoyd. “Let’s just say I wouldn’t be first on the list for a Cormac McCarthy audiobook.”

Call Control was one of the final songs written for the album, documenting the life of drummer McKinlay and other underworked musicians struggling to survive. Even when they’re biting into a stale bagel or working part time at the Skyline (a beloved diner in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood that also inspired Andy Shauf’s 2020 album), they “do it all for the rock ’n’ roll.” According to Learoyd, “my other songs are going for the literary award and trying to get heady with it. For this one, I wanted a song that was simple, hummable, and doesn’t get lost in the weeds with a thesaurus.”

Phone Booth In The Desert Of The Mind is another immediately ear-catching salvo, sung in unison, and written while Fahner was cooped up with Covid in summer 2022. Continuing a lyrical theme from Surrounded, he explains how it explores the desire to escape society, followed by the realisation that you’ve given up the things that nurture and sustain you. “It’s a hitting the road song about wanting to keep driving with no destination, but also feeling like you’re lost in the desert. Matt and I both sing the whole time, so it brings us together, and feels like a perfect statement of the Motorists sound.”