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QUICK SPINS: Gold Motel, The Gaslight Anthem

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 26, 2012 5:20PM

In which we take a quick look at a few recent musical releases.

Gold Motel
Gold Motel

goldmoteljuly26.jpg Maybe it was pure luck that Chicago quintet Gold Motel have released their second album in the midst of one of the city’s hottest summers on record. Their breezy, summery pop sounds have been the perfect soundtrack to a summer of sitting in the shade, sweating, and eating ice cream before it melts. Debut album Summer House was a gem of California pop, all golden sunshine and driving with the windows open. If there’s a challenge for bands who make their hay with guitar-driven pop, it’s to keep their sound from becoming rote, to keep things shifting and growing. Thankfully, Gold Motel knows this and, though their new self-titled album is certainly a sibling to their debut, it still shows plenty of signs of growth and is anything but boring.

Gold Motel picks up where Summer House left off, the album opener, “Brand New Kind Of Blue” being given a slightly buzzy edge while the shimmering guitar of “These Sore Eyes” exhibits some Laurel Canyon sound, no surprise given the area was the basis for pre-recording rehearsals. But both of those songs also exhibit how Gold Motel progresses beyond the polished sound of its predecessor. There are small flourishes of keyboards here, touches of crunchier guitar there, roughing up the texture just a bit and it works well for the band, grounding the music rather than letting float away on a breeze. The soaring “Cold Shoulders” gives way to the pulsating “Your Own Ghost” which is as spooky as Gold Motel gets. But even as they make small pushes away from that polished sound, they manage to stay centered and deliver some gigantic hooks in the process (see: the chorus to “Always One Step Ahead”).

Whether or not Gold Motel will ever break out of this particular pop mold is irrelevant. Not every band will make some earth-shattering shift in sound (see: the praise heaped on Radiohead) nor should they. Gold Motel are damn good at what they do and as long as the music follows suit, there’s no reason to worry. Just roll down the window and enjoy the ride.

Gold Motel plays Schubas tonight with Jon Walker and Girls On Bicycles, 7 p.m., all ages, $12
(Ed. Note: Full disclosure - Chicagoist weekend contributor Eric Hehr is also the guitarist in Gold Motel. this had no bearing on Marcus's review.—CS)

The Gaslight Anthem

gaslightanthemjuly26.jpg While The Gaslight Anthem is often classified as “punk” and does portray many of the genre’s aesthetics, on new album Handwritten the band is beginning to show it has just as much in common with Springsteen than it does with Social Distortion. Which isn't a surprise given the band shares a home state with the boss. The soulful, earnest sound has evolved over the course of the band's four albums (and one EP), refined and honed on Handwritten, the band's major label debut and one of the band's best. And just as the band's sound has grown, so has frontman Brian Fallon's lyrics, writing sweeping, populist songs of heartbreak and catharsis.

Lead track "45," the title track, and "Howl" show the band hasn't lost its ferocity even as its sound has matured. "45" uses the image of flipping over a record to symbolize moving on; it's not the most original imagery - the High Fidelity version of turning over a new leaf - but Fallon sings with such conviction that it connects. And "Howl" gives Fallon a bite as he growls, "Does anything still move you since you're educated now? / And all grown up and travelled so well." Those songs, though, are some of the rarer examples of the band sounding like its old self, especially their revved-up debut, Sink Or Swim. The band is comfortable with the slow burn of "Biloxi Parish" and the stomp of "Mulholland Drive." "Here Comes My Man" and its "ooh la la la" is the band channeling Motown and string-laden album-closer "National Anthem" may be the quietest thing the band has ever put to tape.

Somehow it works as a cohesive whole, a rock record through-and-through that sounds like a band hitting its stride. Some of the slow burn also carries over from Fallons side-project, The Horrible Crowes. And, yes, Handwritten is a subtler effort, some of the grit and edge from previous efforts has been polished off and that's sure to put off some of the band's long-time fans. But that's the natural growth a band like The Gaslight Anthem has throughout its career and here, it's working, the band reaching forward with a foot in the past. It's not the most smooth transition, sure, but evolution is hardly a bad thing, especially when Springsteen is your guidepost.

Gaslight Anthem plays Riot Fest on Saturday, September 15, Humboldt Park, 2-day passes still available, $59.98