Driving is a huge part of rock and roll’s enduring mythology. Images of cruising down the

highway with friends and lovers while basking in the freedom of the open road pervade pop

music’s lyrical canon. Yet, so often, these idealized images clash with the everyday drudgery

of being a motorist: traffic jams, detours, and bad news on the radio.

This tension is central to Motorists’ debut LP, Surrounded—an album that is as much about

the colourful possibilities of life as it is about the way those possibilities are boxed in by

technologies. It’s clear that, for the band, creative collaboration is the only way to break the

tension. In a world where everyone’s been in their own bubble, Motorists have pushed theirs

together and worked through feelings of isolation as a group, to the tune of jangly guitars,

infectious power pop hooks, and a steady motorik beat. Recorded in their rehearsal space

before it was handed off for mastering by Australian punk hero Mikey Young (Eddy Current

Suppression Ring, Total Control) the result is an album full of revelations about what it

means to be together, and how bad you want it when you’re being torn apart.

Craig Fahner, Matt Learoyd, and Jesse Locke’s paths have intertwined for a long time.

They’ve played together as Motorists for three years, but have been in and out of various

projects together since their teenage years. Fahner’s previous bands include Feel Alright

and Leather Jacuzzi, Learoyd has performed with Lab Coast, while Locke plays with Tough

Age, Simply Saucer, and Chandra, with whom he runs the label We Are Time. The trio share

an eclectic mix of influences from post-punk to power pop to krautrock. Fans of R.E.M.,

Teenage Fanclub, and Sloan will recognize Motorists’ economic, vocal-driven pop devotion.

Title track “Surrounded” captures the band’s collective feeling at the start of the COVID

lockdown. The song’s narrator, increasingly fed up with the trappings of their surroundings,

hops from place to place in an effort to get away from it all. But where on Earth do you go

when you feel like there’s “too much water” and “too much land”? “It’s about the impossibility

of being alone with one’s self,” Fahner says, “since we ultimately construct ourselves within

a phenomenological bubble full of some stuff we have chosen and some stuff we have no

control over.” Eventually, the narrator ends up back where they started, but the journey

comes with a realization that removing yourself from your frustrations only leaves you less

equipped to deal with them when hiding is no longer an option.

“Vainglorious” deals with feelings of alienation in a different way, examining them through a

political lens. Superficially, the people in charge might say all the right things to make you

feel comfortable, while actively working against your best interests in practice. “We have

seen the work that is actually done from the front lines to make things better for vulnerable

people while our representatives do absolutely nothing, and yet they continue to

congratulate themselves as progressive leaders,” Fahner says, recounting the failures of

Canada’s national and local politicians. Wondering out loud how one could stand to live such

a paradoxical life and stand for nothing, these do-nothings are designated with the biblical

sin of vainglory—“all of the pride, none of the substance.”

A sort of idealistic counterbalance to “Surrounded,” “Through to You” draws back the dark

curtain of solitude to let in some sunshine. It’s a song about yearning to connect with other

people, written during the first lockdown springtime, when hope for a bit of familiarity was

starting to blossom. The desire to feel close to someone without having to speak a word is

expressed beautifully—both lyrically as a feeling of “flowing through the veins of another

heart,” and musically with the brightest jangly melodies on the album and a wistfully sweet


Surrounded touches on these feelings in a kaleidoscope of other ways, too. The isolating

effects of technology are personified in the uncanny valley of artificial intelligence—things

that mess with our heads because they feel real, even though they’re not—or the walled

gardens that tech companies raise around us to limit our choices in exchange for minor

convenience. It’s an album about modern living and, as Fahner succinctly describes,

“isolation in a technologically-saturated society, laden with romanticism around radical



Motorists offer up a window into their hearts during a strange time, with an honest, earnest

approach to their songwriting sorely missed since the days of college rock. Surrounded

shines a spotlight on the ennui of going through the motions, but it’s not without solutions

either—these songs remind us that technology exists within the boundaries of human

knowledge, and there’s still more to know beyond the lines that have been drawn. There are

also plenty of hopeful reminders that the flip side of feeling alone is the ever-present

potential to be reunited with what you’re missing.


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