The music of Moving Boxes can be deceiving. The band’s live performances are full of excitement and smiles, with music that seems to lift your body into the air. However, lurking beneath the celebratory surface are themes of existential dread that pull your heart back down to Earth. This is the friction that generates the heat of their new album, The Things We Leave Behind.
The album, which drops on Jan. 26th, further develops the trio’s unique sound, which combines frenetic, emo-style guitar work that sometimes borders on metal juxtaposed with expressive, crystal-clear female vocals.
Guitarist JT Sutek says this combination casts a wide net, attracting fans of a wide range of musical artists ranging from beabadoobee to Spiritbox. Moving Boxes’ Instagram bio tags them as “Midwesty pop-punky 5th-wave emo whatevercore” — a playful way to describe their music without tying themselves down to any one particular genre.
“I feel like we have more of the attitude of Sweet Pill and the happiness of Pool Kids,” says Sutek.
Sutek and both of his bandmates — Sophie Biancofiore (vocals/bass) and Seth Brown (drums) — grew up in and around Charlotte. Now in college, they are split between Charlotte and Raleigh.
The band’s origins can be traced back to a break-up song called “Dakota” that Sutek wrote while he was still in high school.
“I was in another band [Forever We Roam] that was doing a lot heavier music,” he tells Queen City Nerve. “I was like, ‘Man, this song is not gonna work for my band. I need somewhere to put this.’ And then me and Sophie got in contact because we were coworkers.”
Once Biancofiore added her vocals — comparable to those of Elizabeth Stokes (The Beths) or Lindsey Jordan (Snail Mail) — to Sutek’s music, Moving Boxes was born.
The evolution of “cry-mosh” music
When I ask the band what their mission statement would be, if they were to create one as a band, their answer evolves.
Sutek: To make music that you can sing, dance, mosh or cry to.
Biancofiore: You can mosh while crying. [laughs]
Sutek: You can cry-mosh to it. We are cry-mosh music. [laughs]
The band’s earlier songs, including “Dakota,” had a more earnest and nostalgic sound, but Sutek eventually tapped into his metal roots.
“I kind of brought back some of the more technical and heavier aspects of Forever Roam and started weaving in some of the breakdowns and the up-tempo drums while keeping the light, twinkly sounding guitars,” says Sutek.
During this transition, Biancofiore had to find a way to make her vocals work with the new, harder sound that the band was exploring.
“All the songs I know in this genre, like Sorority Noise and Mom Jeans…” Biancofiore explains. “These are all like male vocals. Like, what can I bring to the table with that? And then finding bands like Pool Kids and Sweet Pill and things like that. I was like, ‘Oh, I really, really, really enjoy this.’ And I also bring in my own spin to it.”
The single “Bed, Bath + Beyond My Breaking Point” was the first song to definitively encapsulate the Moving Boxes sound, but it came about in a frantic way.
Sutek contacted Nick Steinborn (The Wonder Years) to do pre-production for Moving Boxes, but was told that they would only have a short window of time to work together before Steinborn went on tour with his own band.
“I was like, ‘Oh, we have a single ready, let me send you the stems.’ And we did not have a single ready,” Sutek admits. “We tracked the entire song in 24 hours.”
What came out of the hurried effort was not a rushed result but a definitive track, in the eyes of the band.
“I feel like this is our sound,” says Biancofiore.
“Driving backwards down a one way street”
Most of the songs on The Things We Leave Behind contain lyrics that were co-written by both Sutek and Biancofiore, a departure from earlier songs that the two usually wrote separately.
“It’s been really cohesive for this album. I think part of it is we went through a lot of the same struggles together in the last year that we maybe didn’t before, and it really helped us to relate to each other and work on lyrics cohesively and still have a unified voice,” says Sutek.
“I think most of the songs were like, [Sutek] started something and then I kind of finished up the lyrics,” adds Biancofiore.
The album starts off strong with two previously released singles, “Stop Signs are Merely Suggestions” and “Swoledemort,” both of which are representative of Moving Boxes’ signature high-speed, frenetic sound.
Themes of stagnation, regression and hopelessness are present throughout the album, including the up-tempo “Look Ma, No Hands!” which can be described as a heavier version of The Beths.
“Driving backwards down a one way street/ Regressing faster than I can find my feet/ And I’m losing speed…”
The feeling of hopelessness is adeptly conveyed on the chorus of the self-reflective and emotional “My Therapist Would Like a Raise” — a more relaxed song that provides abundant space for Biancofiore’s subtle vocal inflections to shine through.
“Is life enough to keep breathing/ Is there a direction to sinking/ Cause my feet are made of sand/ But I’m running/ I’m running/ I’m running…”
References to death also underpin many songs, including “*Cries in French* (Ouip Ouip),” which features Sutek’s choppy, staccato guitar and Biancofiore hitting her highest notes on the album during the second verse.
“I’ve gotten so used to picturing death/ I don’t think I’ll be shocked when it happens/ All I can do is hope that I get close enough/ That I can feel I’ve paid my debt…”
However, no song confronts the topic of death as directly as the deeply personal song “The River,” a highlight of the album.
Contemplating the end on ‘The River’
“‘The River’ was a song that I started,” explains Sutek. “I was at a very, very, very, very, very low point.”
“Dan Campbell (The Wonder Years) put it really well when he said, ‘I have a tenuous relationship with continued existence,’” says Sutek. ”That song is really dark for me. I have a hard time listening to it.”
Sutek wrote the chorus first.
“On my shoulder/ My devil says I should give in/ Let the river consume me/ Fill my lungs and let the pain win/ I spent the last year wishing I was dead/ Don’t you think the water’s a poetic end?”
Despite being such a personal song for Sutek, as expressed in the chorus, the verse lyrics were written by Biancofiore. She felt that Sutek’s chorus hit hard and conveyed the meaning of the song so that her job with the verses was to be more metaphorical by tying into the title.
“I threw a rock in the river/ All it did was sink/ Pebbles shifted around/ Motionless until the current turned it to ground/ I tend to visit that place now…”
“The River” concludes without resolution.
“Every single day/ A routine on replay/ A lens of only gray/ Throw it all away…”
Given the serious subject matter of “The River,” the music is more somber and minimalistic than the rest of the album, as is the title, which departs from the typical playful style the band uses when naming their songs.
“It was a very, very, horribly dark song to write, and I didn’t want to sugarcoat it with flashy drums or flashy guitar,” Sutek says. “The rest of the album can have long, funny titles. This song cannot.”
“It’s nice to be able to hear that song now and be like, ‘It sucks that I felt that way in the moment,’” he continues. “And I’m glad that I don’t relate to this song as much now.”
A glimmer of hope
The penultimate track — an instrumental entitled “Entracte” — does just what the title suggests, serving as an interlude between the songs up to this point and the finale.
Somber, melancholy guitar passages offer the listener a moment to pause and reflect on the emotional avalanche they’ve experienced thus far. Will the heroine give in and let the river consume her? The music supplies an answer as the drums build up and the mood suddenly takes a more confident and optimistic turn ending with a triumphant crescendo.
“‘Entracte’ is an instrumental interpretation of me physically picking myself up,” says Sutek. “It’s very meaningful to me, even though it doesn’t say anything.”
The final song — “This Is Not How it Ends” — is more than just an ironic title. Instead it’s a statement of strength and defiance delivered loudly and with a fast tempo. The heroine begins to become aware that things have to change in her life — a message delivered by her own body.
“My back’s got a story to tell/ There’s a narrative in my posture/ It’s writing letters/ and they’re telling me to get the hell out/ They’re telling me to get out…”
With this moment of awareness, the music explodes with energy, eventually leading to the chorus, which offers the first tangible glimmer of hope.
“I’m not gonna let December drag me under again/ I’m not gonna run away, run away/ I need to breathe life before I decay…”
The final push begins with chaotic guitars that seem to be struggling to break through some kind of barrier. Eventually, the music accelerates, giving a sense of forward momentum in stark contrast to the themes of stagnation and regression in the earlier songs.
After a final rendition of the chorus, the emotional peak of the album is reached when Biancofiore sings, “For once, I will not be my reason for pain…” repeating it seven times like an affirmation.
“The last line of the song that Sophie wrote is just the most perfect, ideal, genius way to end the album,” says Sutek. “‘I will not be my reason for pain.’ It’s self-realization. ‘Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of wallowing. I’ve brought a lot of these problems on myself. It’s not going to be my fault anymore.’ And so that song is a very intentional closer. It’s not sunshine and rainbows, and that’s on purpose.”
“You can’t control anything, but there’s little things that you can do to make yourself be happier with where you’re at,” Biancofiore adds.
The Things We Leave Behind is an emotional journey. To fully appreciate the collection of songs, the listener need only let their guard down enough to allow Biancofiore’s voice to seep past their emotional barriers.
The lyrics and general themes of the album can be stark and unsettling, but that’s alright because they’re delivered in such a beautiful and powerful way that you’ll have no choice but to cry-mosh.
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