It’s been fourteen years since The Movielife last released an album. That might not mean much to some, but within Long Island’s extensive emo and post-hardcore scene, Forty Hour Train Back To Penn has been rightly hailed as a classic, capturing the spirit and heart of punk rock in the early 2000s almost perfectly. It capped off a career that ended far too soon, and while Vinnie Caruana has attempted to recapture the magic with his subsequent projects – most notably with I Am The Avalanche and their criminally underrated 2014 album Wolverines – it’s been an elusive beast.
So nearly a decade-and-a-half later, and after spending the last few years hitting the touring circuit with a surprising amount of gusto that isn’t often seen with “veteran” bands, comes The Movielife’s fourth album Cities In Search Of A Heart, an album that’s hard to criticise and even harder not to fall in love with. This is exactly how a comeback album should be done, pitting the exact same weathered, emotional grit against the best kind of punchy, crunchy punk rock that comes and goes within half an hour. It’s actually quite staggering how little has been lost in such a lengthy interim; this is powerful, sobering stuff that shoots The Movielife right back into the top tier of acts in their ilk.
The biggest factor in this is Caruana himself, who hasn’t missed a beat in his gruff rasp that projects the sort of heart-on-sleeve emotions needed for this sort of punk. Drawing on his experiences in I Am The Avalanche, there’s a rough-hewn quality to tracks like Mercy Is Asleep At The Wheel and Lake Superior that brim with world-weary authenticity and experience that’s hard to fake. He puts in some serious work as a vocalist too, be it in the gravel-coated pop-punk of Sister Saint Monica or the haunted, hollow desperation of closer Hearts that pull from an emotional well that spans a healthy number of themes. Unquestionably, this album is at its best with Caruana at his most uplifting and lovestruck, like with the haplessly endearing imagery that underpins Laugh Ourselves To Death and You’re The Cure, or the beautiful mid-album ballad Pour Two Glasses, driven by acoustic guitar and strings and anchored by the simple but wonderfully effective line “I’m not coming home for Christmas / I’m coming home for you”. There’s such a plain-spoken sincerity to this album that packs so much more weight and gravity compared to the overwritten poetry this scene can often spew out, and as a whole outfit, The Movielife are well-versed in eking out its full potential.
Of course, that also comes with how well the instrumentation works, and with Cities In Search Of A Heart taking the route of immediately nostalgic gruff-punk, there was never a chance of it failing in that department. Except, where a lesser band might be able to fluke a win through unwaveringly adhering the genre’s own restrictions (which has happened more than once), The Movielife are a bit looser and more free-flowing. Bits of emo, pop-punk and post-hardcore are made a lot more prevalent, and the result is an album that has definite variety but ultimately is recognisable across the board. As much as a track like Blood Moon or the sub-two-minute opener Ski Mask draw from a more ragged, ramshackle brand of pop-punk, Mercy Is Asleep At The Wheel and Ghosts In The Photographs conversely owe a lot more to downbeat emo, and yet all still have enough in common to work as a whole. Even in the drastic shifts of Pour Two Glasses which is essentially a drinking song with its rousing acoustic guitar and fiddles, and the dark, almost uncomfortable minimalism of Hearts, there’s a quality about them that feels distinctly warm and familiar, wrapped in the Long Island sound that has always worked to this effect.
Even fourteen years later, The Movielife are still tapping into the scene that birthed them, and paying homage to it with fantastic results. Perhaps more than ten tracks and twenty-seven minutes wouldn’t be too much to ask, but when that’s the biggest fault with an album, there’s little to really complain about. That’s exactly the case with Cities In Search Of A Heart; there’s zero fat or messing around, and drawing on such an earthy punk sound that’s always an easy sell doesn’t hurt in the slightest. It may have been left a bit too late to cause the ripples it’s undoubtedly capable of causing, but the return of The Movielife is one whose brilliance can’t be ignored, particularly when it spawns albums like this.
For fans of: I Am The Avalanche, Hot Water Music, The Wonder Years
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Cities In Search Of A Heart’ is released on 22nd September on Rise Records.