By any reasonable first impression, Cage9 is a generic pop-punk act. There's the eye-rolling "random word followed by a number" name, the singer who wouldn't sound out of place on an Eve6 record and the radio-friendly choruses.
But just under the surface, there's some real musicianship on El Motivo. The very first track closes with an exotic instrument - possibly a steel drum, or a keyboard simulation of one - and upon close inspection it turns out such minor touches aren't uncommon.
There's a piano line here, a quiet melody there. Many of the songs even feature some lead guitar.
"Hearts and Stars" is a good, genuine dose of metal riffing topped with aggressive, distorted singing. The teenybopper crowd can still latch on to the chorus melody, but it's clear someone studied his old Metallica records.
Then there's the spacey, fleet-fingered riff that supports the verses of "Dead Letter." And "Four Leaf Clover" ends in a gentle wave of Pink Floyd-inspired guitars and piano.
Each song has its own subtle personality - the pop-punk facade holds the record together instead of damning it to the Hell of Unoriginal Music (except maybe on the hopeless "Breaking Me Down").
The vocals are performed well, with solid delivery and occasional harmonies, though the style is a bit stereotypical. The lyrics, while sometimes random, flow well and pretty much keep away from cliche themes.
Despite all this, if you absolutely don't like pop-punk, you won't like El Motivo. The sing-along choruses will prove too much to handle.
But if you're willing to give the better element of a terrible genre a shot, this record is a great place to start. And Cage9 is a band to watch for the future, because the album hints at a number of avenues to explore.
Robert VerBruggen (http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com) is an apprentice editor at The National Interest in Washington, D.C. and is an antiMusic contributor.