CD Review of The Western States Motel by The Western States Motel

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The Western States Motel:
The Western States Motel
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Firebird Field Recordings
Released: 2007

The eponymous debut album from the Western States Motel is generating a buzz amongst pop music fans, and rightfully so. The Los Angeles band has a sound that somehow seems both laid back and up-tempo at the same time. Acoustic guitars, vintage synthesizers and stripped down but solid percussion create a comforting yet still rocking vibe. Some call it “sunshine pop,” but the album has a winsome cloudy day vibe as well.

The Western States Motel bring a variety of influences to mind, including the Shins, Beck, Grandaddy, the Alan Parsons Project and Elliott Smith. But the group, based around singer/songwriter Carl Jordan, is clearly carving out its own niche. Jordan has a warm voice that recalls the singer/songwriter era of the ‘70s, yet still sounds fresh. The arrangements are sparse but tight. Jordan’s voice and the old school psychedelic synths propel the songs well above standard acoustic pop fare.

Songs like “The New E Blues,” “Southwest Planes,” “Cheap Speakers” and “Rows of Homes” grab the ear with their catchy hooks, yet still conjure a chill vibe, as if they could be soundtrack material for movies about soul-searching road trips. This may be due to the fact that Jordan began the project with the idea of creating soundtrack material for unmade short films and eventually provided the score for “Folsom, Cash and the Comeback,” a documentary about Johnny Cash’s 1968 concert at Folsom Prison.

The Western States Motel aren’t writing moody instrumental tracks or shoegazer pop. Jordan has created an album full of catchy melodies and interesting chord progressions, most of which will get your foot tapping. And like an indie flick with a surprise ending, the album’s last track, “I Won’t Be Going Back to San Diego,” provides some unforeseen drama that leaves the listener intrigued about what may have befallen Jordan down by the border where “it’s a beautiful town” but someone left him “face down in the dirt.”

Jordan clearly knows what he’s doing in the studio, and it will be interesting to see what kind of life the Western States Motel can bring to these tracks onstage.

~Greg M. Schwartz