There’s more ideas being thrown around in the first two minutes of “Moral Melt” than most bands manage to get through in an entire album. On paper, it probably shouldn’t work — a mix of orchestral theatricality, propulsive emotional angst, and poppy exuberance — but the Island Of Misfit Toys manage to pull it all together for a glorious five minutes of music.
The expansive Chicago collective got their start with 2011’s debut Bear Hair, and they’re putting out a new album, I Made You Something, at the end of this week. “Moral Melt” acts as something of a bridge between the albums, even invoking both of the record titles at one point to signify their emotional and musical maturation in the four years between the two releases. Frontman Anthony Sanders alternates between belting like Fiyero from Wicked and a Max Bemis-like wail as he attempts to reconcile his past self with his present. It’s self-actualization through life experience, reflecting the kind of fumbles and strength that can only come with time. When Sanders says, “It took 10 years, 5 bands, 2 girls, and 1 friend to truly make me sing” at the end of the song, you can feel the long journey behind him.
But “Moral Melt” doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of past mistakes and attitudes. The first two verses act as reminders of the darker sides of ourselves that need shedding. The first verse is all cocky and aggressive — “I’m a new scratch you woke up with/ Bet you wish you never broke up with me” — and the second transforms carnal, degrading lust — “I’ve got a throbbing problem, both my legs spread Tetris-esque” — into something equal parts wonderful, unsettling, and naïvely young.
“I’m the sum of my parts/ I’m the bright and the slighter sides of my heart,” Sanders sings in the coda. We’re all in a struggle to be our best selves; as “Moral Melt” shows, that fight will be constant. But with some help from your friends and a good look inward, if you get all those parts of yourself — both the good and the bad — in a delicate balance, you can turn it into something very beautiful. Listen below.