Nine times out of ten, when I discover a band, it’s via their record. My first impression of them, whoever “they” might be, is of their time spent in the studio, with the wizardry of a good sound engineer behind them. Occasionally, however, I’ll be exposed a band in their live form and when I do hear them on record, I’m never entirely certain what to expect, how the sound will translate.
This summer, I was in my favorite barn in the world, Codfish Hollow, a site that’s seen such esteemed bands cross it’s stage as Delta Spirit, Ra Ra Riot, Local Natives, Suckers, and The Walkmen. I was there slingin’ shirts and drinking whiskey out of a beer bottle as part of the glorious entourage for Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Gun Lake, a folk band that I’m basically head over heels in love with. They’d been tossed on a bill that was headlined by Roadside Graves and a band I knew little to nothing about, Gold Motel.
Gold Motel, it ends up, is the project of Chicago’s Greta Morgan, who is better known as the female half of the on-hiatus group of popsters The Hush Sound. As a closeted fan of The Hush Sound, someone who’s always found Morgan’s vague yet relatable lyrics incredibly in tune to her own existence, I was pretty stoked to stumble upon Gold Motel and live, the band was an energetic delight. Morgan’s incredibly smooth, appealing vocals and jangly keyboard was punctuated by vigorous drums and kinetic guitar. On record, however, is a much more subdued version of Gold Motel.
Gold Motel is very much a pop band and there is nothing wrong with that. They’re making very enjoyable music that could orchestrate a mean dance party but sadly, the energy they exhibit live does not translate to Summer House, the band’s latest release, which leaves the LP, on a whole, feeling a little lackluster.
Opening track “We’re On The Run” is barely memorable and late album ballad “Who Will I Be Tonight?” is nothing that Morgan hasn’t done better in the past with her old band (See The Hush Sound’s beautiful “Hurricane” for evidence of that). Summer House is peppered with lovely moments (“Perfect In My Mind” and “Make Me Stay” are great examples of this) but sadly, the sheen of the studio is all too prevalent and the accessible grit that Gold Motel exhibits live is nowhere to be seen.
That isn’t to say that Gold Motel isn’t a good band. They are. They’re just a prime example of what not to do in the studio, lest your album become a lifeless shadow of what it could have been. Summer House is rife with potential but the fact that it’s a mere thirty minutes long yet it seems to drag at times is nothing if not a bad omen. Morgan composes lovely songs that showcase her heart-on-her-sleeve mentality and are undeniably accessible. Hopefully next time, Gold Motel takes a cue from the response they get live and let’s some of their exuberance translate to the studio.