Some genres suffer from a lot of cliches. OK, so all genres do to some extent, but some suffer that bit more, like they have a black hole of cliches sucking infinitely upon them. It doesn’t stop credible music or new ideas being written within that genre, but it makes it an absolute minefield in which to tread. One of the obvious genres to suffer this affliction is rock, which is possibly down to the over-ambitious bands of the 70s and 80s that eventually led to the likes of Spinal Tap and Bad News finding a rich orchard in which to mock. Elsewhere is the genre of indie pop, which the Americans have been known to do rather well, but once again it’s strewn with spiky cliche mines. Today’s recommendation are pitching their music within indie pop, describing themselves as “wildly fun“, which is all well and good, but you can already imagine the Niagara-sized pitfalls. This band somehow show off a world of inventiveness within the over-cooked genre, but to balance things up they also lose the odd limb when they tread upon a lack of imagination. With one hand they give, but with the other, well, they lose the hand entirely.
Saint Motel are a quartet from Los Angeles. They aim to deliver song structures that often follow a verse/chorus/verse/chorus pattern, you know, like actual proper songs and that. Their digital PR recently got in touch to push the new song, 1997, to us as a UK exclusive, but one search in our Gmail inbox uncovered unread emails that had come directly from the band, no doubt prior to them having PR on board. This is a common occurrence, suffering, like any music blogger does, from an impossibly busy inbox, meaning it indirectly becomes a search engine for new music on occasion. Who needs to surf SoundCloud or Bandcamp, when you can type band names into the Gmail search bar? Perhaps we should set up access to our inbox as a new mp3 search engine website in itself? It’s a rather ridiculous situation of course, when you search your own inbox when researching a band, but alas this is the modern world we live in.
That initial email approach from the band held within it their first punt, the song Honest Feedback, which kicks off at a jolly pace. They explained how the lyrics were almost designed by accident as the singer simply filled the song with randomly selected words as he tried to write the vocal melodies, but decided to stick with the first words that came to mind. If it ain’t broke, eh. It’s a song that has their “fun” dials turned up to eleven, reeling around our headphones like there’s a circus inside them. The engine may be motoring, but you feel like it’s a journey you have perhaps been on before. It suffers from a relatively singular pace throughout, but it also has an undeniable attraction. This is a repeated trip, flying by in the same weird way the return leg on a lengthy car journey always seems to go by faster than it did on the way out there. However, the sun is shining throughout and the view is always pretty, so it’s hard to let your mood drop. You can clearly hear what the vocals are saying and you know exactly where the next eight bars are going, which gives it an instant familiarity, but you find your mind drifting onto your shopping list or something.
Thankfully new gears are found on other tunes, with a particularly enjoyable restraint that keeps things tight with the tune, Puzzle Pieces, with some of the most confident vocals around, especially in the crescendos. The instrumentation is strong the whole way through as each element is introduced. Again the pace is driven with thick soles pressed upon the accelerator pedal, but the engines not all that, so you’re never fearfully gripping the passenger seat. This is light guitar pop, with lots of enjoyable style and tinkering flare, which on this tune hits delightful, shouty crescendos at the three minute mark, demanding more attention for the first time. However, it’s when they reign in their racing frivolity that they are found to produce their most interesting music. At Least I Have Nothing brings us a welcome melancholy not seen with other songs. It drops the predictable structures and Americanised cliches and delivers indie pop for grown ups. There’s a freedom swirling within the song, as AJ sings “I got no more family in this town” leaving him “nothing to tie me down“.
They’re at their best when they stretch to more quirky corners, with the occasional break to clap hands or wind it up to attractive peaks, as opposed to simply stepping in music’s equivalent of dogshit, by being, well, “fun“. If you compare them to the bands, Space or The Flaming Lips, you can begin to understand how quirks can be masterfully achieved, but where those two bands have a millions psychedelic ideas woven into the songs, Saint Motel play it much straighter. They’re more reminiscent of the excellent Boston trio, Leisure, who produce a kind of alt-lounge sound, although Saint Motel don’t select to croon quite as much, but they’ll share fans and both are perfectly designed for the UK market. This is indie pop without any hint of a misuse of drugs and it perhaps lacks a little something for it. It’s not going to expand your minds, but it is full of solid ideas. This is indie pop that may well contain cliches that your Mum won’t notice, but the sharper ears will hear them. Either way, what is clear to everyone is their pin-sharp intelligence that’s delicately sewn into every song.
Their debut album, Voyeur, is out on July 10th on their own On The Records label. It follows a 2009 EP of the same name, rather strangely, so we imagine the new album is simply a refined, beefed up version of that EP. We assume the album contains the new tune, 1997, which turns out to be the boldest of them all. Confident piano keys dance behind a cinematic swirl of guitars, before the whole song puffs out with brass and another upbeat pace. Rewardingly it’s more three-dimensional, changing gears smoothly, driving well clear of any cliche obstacles, particularly with the new vocals that join up with AJ. The same pomp and ceremony which has become their trademark is again within view, as the song marches past you. It’s fun like Pulp were fun, not so much in the masterful way Jarvis Cocker scribed his acerbic lyrics, but in the same carefree stylish manner that always earns repeated listens. Saint Motel tread through the cliche minefield with confident, heavy strides, somehow never ending in disaster, but something tells us they’re enjoying it too much to worry about the odd missing limb. (MB)
SAINT MOTEL – 1997
SAINT MOTEL – AT LEAST I HAVE NOTHING
SAINT MOTEL – PUZZLE PIECES