Writing - Reviews
By: Daniel Fortune
The photo on the album cover says it all. The sunshine and palm trees are still present, but that perfect blue chlorine-filtered water is obscured by the shadows cast from above. As the deceptively bouncy opening track confirms, Gold Motel’s latest effort is very much a “brand new kind of blue” for the band.
Gone are the blue skies that laid the backdrop of that happy summer house where relationships came together as effortlessly as the flow of the Pacific Ocean. In its place are the blue feelings of reflecting on your past, of struggling to move forward, of leaving important people behind, of trying to find peace amidst heartbreak and ambivalent relationships. “You come, you go, you’re never far away from me / You’re gone, you’re here, you’re in and out of love with me,” Greta Morgan sings on “These Sore Eyes.” All the while, the protagonist of the song clings to the memories of the former love: reading their books, singing their songs, and trying to make sense of it all.
Quite the contrast from their debut album, "Summer House" was very much about escaping the past. “All I’ll ever know is in the rearview mirror,” Morgan confidently proclaimed on its opening song, “We’re on the Run.” In many ways, that record was about the band members pushing the reset button on earlier music projects like The Hush Sound. The optimistic feeling of starting over was perfectly complimented by the southern-California, summertime-ease, breeze-blowing-through-your-hair kind of vibe that the songs projected. While some of them dealt with more serious subjects like the difficulty of reconciling relationships with life on the road, there was a pervading carefree sentiment that always kept the heaviness in check.
On "Gold Motel," the sobering complications of life are brought to the surface. Aforementioned opening song “Brand New Kind of Blue” sets this tone well, telling a story of “Casting off again / Not knowing where to land,” a decidedly more realistic spin on the Peter Pan escapism established in “We’re on the Run” and the "Summer House" album in general. “Counter Clockwise” comes across in a similar manner. While Morgan initially states, “The easiest way to forget is to leave the place behind,” she then concedes, “But I stop each time I try.” The themes of uncertainty and struggling to move forward culminate in the smooth, Phoenix-inspired album closer, “Leave You in Love,” which tips its hat to the reverberating impact of past relationships: “You tattooed me with a pen in your hand / You can rest assured the ink is still there.”
While the album’s overall perspective is quite realistic in nature, it seems like all the best songs on "Gold Motel" manage to comfort the listener in some way. “Slow Emergency” features an alluring vocal melody and soothing keyboard riff that calm the mood with the help of beautiful imagery: “Cicada summers, holidays in the park,” and the reassurance of Dan Duszynkski’s backing vocals that “Things are going OK.” “Cold Shoulders” raises the energy with a cantankerous wall of electric guitars set to lyrical epiphanies that make peace with lost love: “Some things end without trying / We turn away without warning.” The euphoria of the music is in the way Gold Motel manage to turn these sad realizations into cathartic anthems that resonate universally.
If "Summer House" was the escape to California, then "Gold Motel" is the return home. Not only to Chicago, but to the past, to the problems left behind, to unfinished relationships, to bittersweet memories. For better or worse, these forces shape our lives and make us into the people we are. So while that pen-sketched tattoo may have long faded away, the memory and impact live on.