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Posted on August 7th, 2012 (4:35 pm) by Matt Essert

Upon listening to Saint Motel’s first full length album, Voyeur, I was immediately torn. On the one, I heard a bunch of pretty great songs (and those that perhaps weren’t at the level of the others still had flashes of greatness). But on the other hand, I almost had to keep checking my playlist to make sure I was listening to the same album. Though not quite at the point of the all too common hip-hop album that’s just a random collection of hits, Voyeur does posses a strange feeling of disconnection. I almost felt as though I was listening to a movie soundtrack following the highs and lows and various moods of a plot, rather than a single, cohesive album. But then I began to wonder: is this necessarily a bad thing? There’s got to be some point between full concept album and haphazard collection of disjointed songs wherein an album can exist and sound quite good, right?

Saint Motel, the four piece band indie/dream/garage pop/prog (*note this vague descriptor) band based out of Los Angeles, first made its mark with the EP ForPlay in 2009. The band met while in film school at Chapman University and has since emphasized visuals in much of its music—the EP included corresponding videos for each of its six songs and their live performances are known for their impressive visual and light displays (this may also help to explain the somewhat soundtrack-esque feel of the LP). And from their live performances, their EP, and now their first full album, Voyeur, released under On the Records, Saint Motel is showing a lot of promise as a relatively young band.

Let’s talk about their genre for a second (as I noted earlier). If we’re being plainly honest, Saint Motel is an indie pop band. But depending on which track off of Voyeur you listen to, your opinion on this matter might change (just as mine did). Going from something like “Benny Goodman” (sounding like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) to a great song like “1997” (Ben Folds Five) to “Daydream / Wetdream / Nightmare” (Fleet Foxes) to “At Least I Have Nothing” (The Smiths) to “You Do It Well” (The Killers) to “Hands Up Robert” (classic rock) to “Stories” (punk rock), there’s a lot of different musical ideas going on. A situation like this is an easy recipe for a muddled album, but Voyeur somehow just isn’t.

“Feed Me Now,” the album’s opener, immediately signals that Saint Motel has a lot of ideas to share, and that they’re not screwing around. The music has a lot going on, but is tight and enjoyable enough that you’re probably going to be hard pressed to find someone who will actively dislike it. The album then takes a drastic turn towards the swing-revival “Benny Goodman,” a song that, while nice to hear, certainly furthers the looming identity crisis (especially so early in the album).

The next track “Puzzles Pieces” is an almost painfully catchy piano-riff driven pop song that sounds like it’s definitely coming from an indie pop band. It’s also a prime example of the lyrical themes lead vocalist A/J Jackson explores throughout the album, specifically love, like in the opening line: “(I gotta say) Honestly, when you look at me, it’s like a gun goes off, deep inside of me/I can hardly move, I can barely breathe, near your features.” It’s certainly nothing new for song lyrics, but Jackson’s lyrics are at once sweet and strange, sometimes requiring multiple listens, and often producing different outcomes after each.

Next on the playlist is arguably the album’s most ambitious and successful track, “Daydream / Wetdream / Nightmare.” It’s a three-part song with clearly distinct section that still somehow works together (almost as if a microcosm of the entire album), and features, in its last leg (the “Nightmare” part), just under two minutes of some truly beautiful music in a dreamy combination of arpeggio guitar, sliding bass, soothing falsetto sings, and lulling choral vocals urging, “Don’t wake up, wake up, wake up.”

Along with “1997,” Voyeur’s A-side is certainly solid, although, aside from the classic rock-tinged “Hands Up Robert” and refreshingly subdued closer “Balsa Woods Bones,” the B-side leaves a little bit on the table and fails to deliver as magically as the first half and features some of the more genre-exploring tracks. But once again, I have to wonder whether this “genre-exploring” is a problem. Though cohesive, thought-out albums are always great, there’s something exciting about a young band with so many great ideas and abilities that they just can’t hold them off until the next record. Saint Motel could have taken a couple songs from here and a couple from there and made a series of albums, each focusing on a different genre. Instead, they pieced them all together and released Voyeur. But luckily for the band, rather than this being another case of trying to do too many genres and inevitably falling at all of them, Saint Motel has managed to create a solid collection of songs that, if nothing else, surely signals a bright future.

Track Listing:
1. Feed Me Now
2. Benny Goodman
3. Puzzle Pieces
4. Daydream / Wetdream / Nightmare
5. 1997
6. Honest Feedback
7. At Least I Have Nothing
8. You Do It Well
9. Hands Up Robert
10. Stories
11. Balsa Wood Bones

saint motel, voyeur, los angeles, indie pop, puzzle pieces, 1997, on the records
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

78 / 100
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