Ghost Track editors Sean Neumann and Joe Plukarski contributed to this review. The insider/outsider review is intended to give a well-rounded take on an album from two perspectives, one review coming from a writer in the local scene where the album comes from and one from a listener outside of the scene.
Album: Keep It in the Dark
Release: May 23, 2015 (Heirship Records)
Our Take: “Buy It”
There’s only a select few albums that come out of Champaign-Urbana each year with built-in hype surrounding their release. Motes was able to do so with their full-length debut Keep It in the Dark on the heels of two well-spaced single releases and a string of shows over the past year. To have clout around your band heading into the release of your debut full-length is an accomplishment on its own, but living up to it is another challenge on its own.
Yet, Motes succeeds in patience. The band, a trio of middle-aged Urbana natives (Matt Mitchell, Elizabeth Majures, Matt Cohn), has taken over a year to release Keep It in the Dark (recorded in June 2014) and four years to release their first full-length record.
The three-piece created a stable spine with a strong three-song stretch in the 2-3-4 spots of the tracklisting, and the album is at its best with the back-to-back stretch of “Great Lake” and “Freeway.” Motes’ one-two punch is one of the best on a CU album over the past few years, in contention only with Grandkids’ “Engines” and “Collegiate Peaks” combination off their 2013 record Timeshare.
The only mistake on the first half of the album is where it starts off. “Great Lake” is a perfect opener that could elevate the album from the first few notes, but instead has to sit through a six and a half-minute opener in “See What Happens.” The opener struggles to start the album off on the right foot with Mitchell’s monotonous voice trudging through a lengthy track that only finds pleasing variation when Mitchell and Majures’ voices overlap, particularly in the whispered line “Isn’t that peculiar?” But the only thing peculiar here is why one of the most anticipated CU albums in recent memory isn’t putting its best foot forward.
But when Mitchell’s deep voice is used as a spotter for Majures’ (“We Collide”), there’s no CU band better at working a layered vocal melody. The split frontman’s vocals are tricky and seems to be a deciding factor throughout Keep It in the Dark. On tracks like “Bleedin’” where Mitchell proves he’s capable of escaping the seemingly one-dimensional vocal limit he set himself out to have on “See What Happens.”
Those with an invested interest in the anticipated album regain hope after the opener when the first few notes of “Great Lake” break the ice. The initial riff tip-toes from the guitar and into your gut, playing with your emotions. The song appropriately sets you up for what to expect out of a Motes track: a monster shoegaze sound camouflaged in innocently feathered vocals and softened breaks where the guitarwork takes center stage.
The intertwining vocal and guitar melodies on “Fools” sees Motes flourishing in full-bloom, sitting comfortably and confident in the middle of what both you and they already know is one of the best CU records this year. The track solidifies Motes’ efforts on Keep It in the Dark, confirming the album’s escape from an underwhelming beginning and into a promising stride of tracks that could all be taken as singles of their own.
Motes’ debut LP was worth the four-year wait, showing off a band that has matured not only in its songwriting, but in its decisions. If Motes were to have released these songs when they were first written a year – or years – ago, it wouldn’t have the same impact. Its production and Colin Althaus’ work with the sound engineering shine up a perfected style to deliver a perfected sound. And given the band members’ age and settled lives in Urbana, Keep It in the Dark will probably stay in the dark in the world outside of CU. But in the sister cities the record was undoubtedly made for, it will be one of the first albums to come to mind when we reflect on the decade. – Sean Neumann
Two years ago shoegaze legends My Bloody Valentine all but saved the genre when they released MBV. Being their third studio album, it came an astonishing 12 years after it’s predecessor, and it was as if MBV called an open challenge to other bands to carry on the shoegaze torch. Two years removed from that, Champaign-Urbana band Motes seems ready.
The three-piece is releasing their debut album Keep it in the Dark off Heirship Records this Saturday, May 23. Motes uses a combination of styles on the album, but never deviates too far from their shoegaze roots.
The album opens with simple delayed guitar that’s followed by a wall of fuzz in “See What Happens.” Layered in the guitar, and not lost in its modulation, are tastefully imperfect vocals. These things combine to make a sound that resembles the grunge-infused shoegaze of the early 90s.
The album is not without its catchy hooks, however. The album takes a poppy turn on the next song, “Great Lake.” A dreamy Modest Mouse-like hook opens the song. Once the pleasant vocal styling of Majerus takes us through another drone segment, the album continues with an upbeat, pop feel.
The sixth song, “We Collide,” is bookended by catchy post-rock-esque riffs. Though the vocals have driven the album up until this point, the guitarwork is so well-done, you almost wish the vocals were missing from this song. If there’s one thing this album was missing, it’s an instrumental track to allow the listener to really get lost in the band’s musical ability. Motes’s one missed opportunity was to have this song be their instrumental transition track to really tie the album together.
However, that is practically the only element missed on the album. Keep it in the Dark features the catchiest style of music that will leave you contemplating the pattern of your laces. It’s an album that will be in a lot of lover’s of different genres archive. – Joe Plukarski