The opening scene of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” has stuck with me. The camera lingers on postcard-perfect images of small-town Lumberton, all white picket fences and well-kept rose gardens, as Bobby Vinton sings the movie’s namesake song. At the end, the P.O.V. descends into a lush, green lawn, stooping into the repugnant world of insects and dirt underneath the presentable facade.
Oddly enough, that brings us to Gold Motel’s second full-length album.
The Chicago-based band fronted by The Hush Sound’s Greta Morgan (formerly Salpeter) had a winner with 2010’s Summer House, and the follow-up self-titled effort is more of the same. Gold Motel shops in the same musical aisle as Best Coast, stocking up on sunny dispositions and sweet, pop-driven melodies with a slight early punk edge. Think Sandra Dee goes to a Ramones show. Having been familiar with the band’s earlier work, I just thought of them as a pleasant diversion. But beneath that breezy sound is a complex, often heart-wrenching melancholy that would make Morrissey so very proud. (Or sad, because Morrissey.)
From opening number “Brand New Kind of Blue,” Morgan positions herself as a shoe-gazer’s Bethany Cosentino, chipper yet thoughtful. It’s “Those Sore Eyes” where the heartstrings really get tugged, as she chirps, “I go out alone every Saturday night, I come home alone pretending it’s alright.” “Musicians,” hiding The Strokes somewhere in its architecture, takes a line like “Most of my friends are musicians in subway stations/Making amends with a dark, indifferent world” and makes it sound like it’s not nihilistic. It is Nietzsche wearing a party hat.
Hiding out in the middle of the album, “Slow Emergency” steeps in poetic imagery and Fleetwood Mac feelgood vibes. Morgan channels the okay-not-actually-dead ghost of Stevie Nicks as she sings of “cicada summers” and “coffee in the morning in a blue-lit room like every other day.” As the title implies, “Slow Emergency” captures a calm borne not of peace, but of refusal to confront something wrong.
“Cold Shoulders” is a sockhop treasure, and “Your Own Ghost” girds itself with a slinky bass line. Gold Motel loses its bearings for a second in the latter third, turning in a couple of forgettable tracks, though some nice flourishes persist (namely, the wistful, wispy reverie at the end of “Santa Cruz”).
Gold Motel confronts serious emotions, yet it manages to never feel like a downer. In fact, for surface listening, it’s all sweet and no sour. After cutting past the polish, though, there’s plenty to think about. On whichever level you choose, the album succeeds.
(2) “These Sore Eyes”
(5) “Slow Emergency”
(6) “Cold Shoulders”