A Critique of Saint Motel’s New Album: Does “saintmotelevision” Sacrifice Creativity for Accessibility?

By Erin Caine
Elm Staff Writer

Los Angeles-native indie pop band Saint Motel released their first full-length album in 2012. The debut, “Voyeur,” was well-received, Mark Jenkins of the Washington Post said in his review that the band—“channeling British glam-pop as only a Los Angeles band can…makes chic and sprightly music with hints of ironic malevolence.”

A/J Jackson
Saint Motel’s vocalist, A/J Jackson, performs live.

The four members of the band originally met while in film school, so it’s no surprise that the band is known for its elaborate concert stages and cinematic videos. Still, theatrics aside, the music stands on its own with its fun, upbeat vibes and its charismatically dreamy and well-executed quality of sound. They released their second long play this year in late October, entitled “saintmotelevision.”
The album opens on “Move”—aptly named, since the track, with its jaunty beat, fuzzy synths, and jazz horns, is so catchy it provokes foot-tapping and head-bobbing from the listener no matter what. There’s something stylish in the sound, something sleek and measured, almost to the point of being calculated. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with careful execution, but if something is too seamless it’s hard for the listener to grasp at the human core of the music; if something’s too tidy and neat, it risks alienating the audience.
Saint Motel walks a thin line in this aspect, though their saving grace may be in the rich stylistic blend that becomes apparent early on in the album with “Destroyer,” a track with mellow bass lines, sax solos superseding hard-edged electric guitar, and Arctic Monkeys-esque indie-rock vocals. “Born Again” similarly fuses an uplifting indie sound with heavy influences in gospel. It becomes apparent by mid-album at “Sweet Talk” and “You Can Be You” that the effort is taking pains to be consistently light and exuberant, though never bubbling over with extraneous energy—as if Saint Motel is afraid of dropping the reins for even a moment and letting the music take over and eclipse all of their careful attentions.
The closest the band comes in “saintmotelevision” to genuine vulnerability is the ending song, “Happy Accidents.” On one hand, acoustic guitar can lend a certain “stripped-down” and candid quality to any song, though the track sports some of the best lyrics of the album, as well. Amid guitarist Aaron Sharp’s tender plucking, vocalist A/J Jackson sings, “If I never laid eyes on you, would I feel something missing? If you never laid eyes on me, would you know something’s gone?” The song is a striking conclusion to the album, a wistful and introspective look at love and at real human connections. It reveals a vulnerability that’s even bolder than the blare of saxophones in “Destroyer” or the soulful backing vocals in “Born Again.” Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t bright spots of inspiration in the midst of all the smooth glam and vigorously linear indie pop. One track in particular that stands out is “Slow Motion,” which dips into a more sober-minded attitude that’s thrown against a sparser, more atmospheric background than we’ve heard in any tracks before.
With only a few moments of artistic innovation and individuality, and with even fewer moments of genuine feeling, “saintmotelevision” can rarely be enjoyed past a superficial level, though it’s not a bad listen; on the contrary, it’s full of energetic fun and easy-going melodies. Still, Saint Motel is a group that’s talented enough to ease up on the controls a bit, and would be better off painting outside the lines once in a while, even at the cost of accessibility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *