After The Hush Sound went on an indefinite hiatus, singer/songwriter/ keyboardist Greta Morgan moved from Chicago to California looking for inspiration. She returned a year later with a new batch of songs and a newfound motivation. So Morgan put together a band with Eric Hehr (guitar), Dan Duszynski (guitar, vocals), Matt Minx (bass) and Adam Coldhouse (drums), all of whom helped her complete the songs and the sound that would become Gold Motel. Their self-titled release mixes upbeat, beach sounds with somber, emotional lyrics to create an oddly catchy-yet-bittersweet album.
A modern-day mix of Blondie and Heart
“Brand New Kind of Blue” opens brightly enough, with fuzzy guitar strikes, sunny acoustic strums and spry drum pops. However, Morgan’s lyrics and emphatic tone somber out the tune: “Floated through the ceiling / High up over the trees / Saw a panoramic view / Of my whole history.” The track was inspired by a book about death and it describes that last moment when you see your life flash before your eyes. But don’t let that get you down – the chorus turns sing-songy enough to have you bouncing right along despite the track’s dark subject matter.
Gold Motel deftly delivers the same trick on “These Sore Eyes.” Its California country acoustic guitars a la Johnny Marr, beachy background harmonies and a steady tambourine make you feel so warm you almost don’t notice you’re listening to a sad song. But over all this feel-good music, Morgan pines for a lover who’s left her and the pain she keeps putting herself through trying to bring him back. She creates a clever turn of phrase from the song’s title, and she and Duszynski deliver an infectious bridge: “You come, you go / You’re never far away from me / You’re gone, you’re here / You’re in and out of love with me.”
“Musicians” picks up the pace with staccato guitars, a tense tempo and falsetto ooh-hoo’s. “Most of my friends / Are musicians in a subway station / Making amends / With a dark, indifferent world” sings Duszynski with Morgan backing him. Chucking up failure like it’s no big deal, the song is an ode to all the buskers out there who never make it big. And yet again, the band creates a happy-go-lucky sound that makes you forget the song is bittersweet.
Music video for “Cold Shoulders”
“In Broad Daylight” jolts open with the opposing sounds of trashcan drums and a handbell hook. Minor chord power punches and tambourine hits join the fray, as Morgan does her best impression of Heart’s Ann Wilson. “Who ever knew / What things could drag us through? / Grew up overnight / And left in broad daylight,” she wails before a catchy, fuzzy bass line and angular guitar stabs add drama to the track’s second half.
A chill keyboard motive and light drum taps mellow things out for “Slow Emergency,” Gold Motel’s moodier-than-most track. Fuzzy, staccato guitar chords join in as Morgan laments, “Counting up the small hours / All repeating, clocking in and out / Television evening / In the blue-lit room like any other night.” Penned after Morgan moved back into her Chicago childhood home, the song gives you that “Okay, what’s next?” feeling of impending blah. Duszynski delivers the bridge with a melody borrowed from Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” and stays to sing with Morgan for the rest of the track.
“Cold Shoulders” bangs its way through the front door with raucous drums and heavy guitars. A murmured bass line, wiry guitar stabs and Morgan’s bitter tone pound their way in soon after. “Once I saw through, you tried to outdo you / We were better back then when I barely knew you / A backseat kiss, a heartbreak wish / It’s too late to take it all back, take it all back, take it all back,” she spits before again channeling Ann Wilson or the chorus. Electric guitar laser beams fire through the song’s 3/4 mark, and staccato electric guitar strums create a ravaging outro like a lover in hate. Thanks to the 70s synth, emotional tone and general orchestration, this track sounds like a Heart B-side.
These Sore Eyes, Slow Emergency, Cold Shoulders, At Least We Tried, Leave You in Love
“Your Own Ghost” chills things back out with an echoing keyboard, rolling bass and high-hat-heavy percussion. But Morgan quickly creates tension as she pines, “Oh my God, is there any way out? / No way to get home / I was talking but I had nothing to say.” Staccato lead guitar licks and distorted chorus harmonies add more drama, but the catchy hoo-hoo-hoos balance things out well. Fuzzed-out, scorching guitars build to a drum-heavy climax before it all drops away.
The guitar-driven “Always One Step Ahead” opens with crunchy chords and quick plucks. Punchy percussion and keyboard overtones add to the pensive tone “Think I’m moving closer / But I am misled / I know that you are always / One step ahead,” Morgan croons after a lover who’s perpetually just out of her reach. A staccato drums-and-guitars bridge shakes things up nicely, and lush vocal harmonies come in right at the end before the glad-but-sad song abruptly ends.
Erratic percussion and echoing guitars start “Counter Clockwise” with a mellow vibe that soon turns melancholy. Bouncy keyboards do their best to liven up the mood, but it’s not enough. “No use staying up at night / Running over each mistake / Can’t go back and make it right / Though the due’s already paid,” Morgan laments. An underwater guitar solo, ethereal synth and lush background vocals close out the wallowing track.
“Once I saw through you, tried to outdo you / We were better back then when I barely knew you / A backseat kiss, a heartbreak wish / It’s too late to take it all back, take it all back, take it all back” – “Cold Shoulders”
“At Least We Tried” picks the pace and mood back up. A rocking, building guitar line, staccato rhythm guitar hits and pounding drums get things moving. Morgan sings with slight regret, “Sharing a room / Sharing a bed / Not as easy / As the things you said / The ceiling sank / We broke the bank / And we’re all spent / We’re all spent.” But a catchy chorus, bouncy keyboard chords and a jumpy handclap-and-tambourine break brighten the mood, turning the song into a bittersweet number like those heard earlier on Gold Motel.
On the flip side of what could have been, “Santa Cruz” imagines an unlikely future. Strong vocal harmonies and staccato lead guitar create an up-tempo outlook as Morgan sings, “Forget it all it’s just a sun-drenched dream / I bet you’d make a good memory / I’ll come back soon when you least assume / Oh, Santa Cruz.” Echoing guitar strums and barren, creative drums sail the song through an extended moody outro, letting you imagine the California fling that never was.
The final track on Gold Motel is the aptly titled “Leave You in Love.” It starts off like a Strokes tune – staccato guitar strums, beating drums and minimal bass. Morgan and Duszynski spin the tale of a pair who couldn’t make it last despite all their puppy-love ways. The title phrase leaves you wondering who left who and who’s still in love, but the catchy-as-a-cold chorus makes you forget all that. In fact, it’ll likely leave you humming along even after the album ends: “Shut it down, start it up / Didn’t mean anything / Didn’t mean much / Shut it down, start it up / So I leave you in love / So I leave you in love.”
Gold Motel introduces the the world as a group that can skillfully mix its 60s-80s pop influences with a modern-day sensibility. They’re still finding their footing toward a truly unique and captivating sound, but they’re off to a great start. This record finds them maturing their sound from the pure summer pop of past releases, and this nuanced approach pushes them in the right direction of deeper, more varied material. If you’re looking for an album that will make you dance when you wanna dance and feel when you wanna feel – sometimes simultaneously – Gold Motel is it.