On their Facebook page, Motorcycle Display Team trump themselves as “carousers and arousers in trousers, yowsers!” It teeters on a delicate tightrope between twee and charmingly tongue-in-cheek. Thankfully, the twee accusation cannot be levelled at the robust collection of songs on their EP, ‘Letters of Last Resort’, so no need to raise your fist aloft and yelp ‘yowsers!’ in response.
Motorcycle Display Team is quite the multicultural assembly of an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Kiwi (sounds a bit like a joke gone awry), made up of Steve, Matt, and Mog. The first track, Letters of Last Resort, opens with an air raid siren and mangled snippets of news reports, rather like those heard in the first moments of Bloc Party’s Hunting for Witches. It is evidently the dawning of Armageddon, and the singer adopts the role of a political leader setting forth the doomsday protocol. The dispassionate vocals and jolting, stabbing riff are mellow bedfellows with the bleak lyrics. This gloom-soaked song fades to the ominous whine of the air raid siren, and it’s a stellar introduction to the EP.
All the Way to Rockaway deals with the slightly less traumatising theme of being jilted. Rejection and listlessness seep through lyrics like, “nothing like getting stood up.” (True, but it’s certainly preferable to crouching in a nuclear fallout zone as missiles desecrate your city). This track is tinged with the salty tang of sea air, and the forlorn but defiant lover (who sounds a bit like The Offspring’s Dexter Holland here) is determined not to be hurt again. One of the most irresistible aspects of this song is the throbbing bassline permeating it.
Rockaway shifts into the eerie, almost spectral guitar at the beginning of the delightfully-named The Laughing Cavalier. This lurches into a heavier riff and some wonderfully fancy alliteration. The antagonist of the piece, “a dashing, dandy man”, is reminiscent of Adam Ant’s “dandy highwayman”, only a lot more dastardly as the song progresses. The singer evokes imagery straight from a Victorian penny dreadful: the looming, archetypal villain with “brows so slightly arched”; the shrieking young woman fleeing from him. An unsettling sound effect of a (possibly gleaming) blade being sharpened slips into more disturbing guitar, before an abrupt conclusion. Throughout, the singer himself sounds sinister, as though he’s lurking in a dim alleyway beckoning to the listener. The macabre combination of eloquent lyricism and chilling riffs makes this the best track on the EP.
Girl Monday, with its cheerful whistling (which sounds somewhat like the tune of the song I Only Want to Be with You), is a pleasant respite from the terror of Cavalier. In a high octave, the singer exalts a woman on a bike. There is sweet harmonising later on, and a breezy but infectious melody throughout. It sounds like something Buddy Holly would have been proud to sing.
Although the title of EP closer, Sleep Apnea, is a nod to the serious nocturnal respiratory condition, the lyrics sound more like the lament of an insomniac than of a sufferer of sleep apnea. The defeatism of this man who wakes before sunrise is prevalent throughout. His insomnia has given him a jaded world view which informs lyrics such as, “ I can’t be arsed.” The singer seems to be emotionally drained, a far cry from the bubbling optimism of Girl Monday. The gloom of Sleep Apnea ebbs away with the desolate twangs of a guitar, bringing the EP to a rather downbeat conclusion.
Overall, ‘Letters of Last Resort’ is a fine assortment of songs for an array of moods, from the breezy charm of Girl Monday, to the melancholy of Sleep Apnea, with a healthy dash of the apocalypse and a Victorian villain for good measure. If only for the elegant lyricism of The Laughing Cavalier, let it caress your eardrums.