The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Pt. 1
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Riff-based pop rockers Saint Motel are back in the proverbial sandbox with their latest release, The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Pt. 1. Since their breakout EP, My Type, arrived in 2014, they’ve remained true to form — 2016’s saintmotelevision was largely made up of megawatt, reverbed, TV show-ready anthems, resembling its predecessor’s chart-topping title track, but with Pt. 1 (of three, collectively one album, to be unveiled over the next few months) the band spends Autumn in unvisited creative territory.
Like many artists beyond the salad days of their careers, the members of Saint Motel seem to have discovered new musical virtues. Good atmosphere is over danceability in the hierarchy of the tracks in Pt. 1. When a band introduces drum machines and sub basses to their sound, they’re especially vulnerable to a sort of crossover gold rush, in which the new pop elements overpower the music. However, the group cleverly avoids any conflict in the EP by using these components to enrich the songs, rather than weaponize them for Billboard chart competition.
“Old Soul” is an example of this — when its verse ends with a built-up stop, rather than crash-landing into a danceable pick-me-up, it enters a soft interlude, continuing down its groovy road, driven by a smooth, programmed drum beat, with no audible pressure to explode into something larger. “Sisters” is filled with gated percussive sounds, but never commits fully to pop electronica. Its chorus contains sampled female BGVs and computerized drums but still finds a way to sound organic via singer A.J. Jackson’s crooning and live piano (think Vampire Weekend’s “Ya Hey”). Even louder and prouder songs like the closer, “Save Me,” don’t quite reach the level-11 energy of past Saint Motel fan favorites, in which Jackson must scream the choruses to be heard (by fun design, of course, as that makes them perfect for live show sing-alongs).
An excursion outside of an act’s oeuvre isn’t always welcome, but with steady hands, the boys land their ship while keeping their sound intact. Here’s to hoping Pt. 2 and Pt. 3 continue to pleasantly surprise.