The biography that the Brooklyn band Motel Motel once chose to post on its official web site was nothing if not a ruse, even if it made perfectly good sense to them and eventually to us, the inquiring and the inquisitive. It was a snippet of some of the great Robert Frost's work and it felt like a fancy way of literately scratching one's head or pissing off a bridge or going for a swim at the local watering hole when you'd decided, very casually, to just say, "Fuck it." It's a whole swarm of confliction and hiccupping clarity. It's a bit about a woman, asking a man what they are and why a babbling brook is so obstinate, going against everything that nature lays out in such black and such white. The piece goes, "Jeremy, where is north?'
'North? North is there, my love.
The brook runs west.'
'West-running Brook then call it.'
(West-Running Brook men call it to this day.)
'What does it think it's doing running west
When all the other country brooks flow east
To reach the ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries
The way I can with you -- and you with me --
Because we're -- we're -- I don't know what we are.
What are we?'
'Young or new?'
'We must be something."
This sizable concern for the makeup of their persons, for knowing how they'd be described by others should the need arise is hard to deal with. It leaves the question, the final question, spinning out like the back wheel of a motorbike on a gravelly surface, while maneuvering a corner turn, kicking rocks or just showing off. The black and the white of things is not what Motel Motel does or has much knowledge about. It's more about the splintered qualities of life, the ways the world seeks retribution and the ways it seeks repossession or just a dig and a laugh, that register with the most weight, like a ton of bricks on the detailed and interesting as all hell music that it makes. The songs are intriguing exercises in these desperate searches for validation, for the faintest bits of light and frank connections to the rest of humankind to touch them or at least take their hands inside other hands.
When Eric Engel sings, "All of the plans we've had have come and gone," we're led out onto the rooftop of a very tall building, it feels, and suddenly we hear the door slammed close behind us and we're stuck to figure out how we're going to get down, knowing that no one's going to be able to hear our pleas from way up there amongst the birds and the leaving heat. There are all kinds of moments of shaky isolationism barging into the parties of "New Denver," bringing us face-to-face with all of the insecurities that tend to plague us as normal folks just trying to survive out there with the wolves and the vultures. It reoccurs to Engel often that he's a man without a place - his New York City is one that doesn't want him and won't claim him - and the streets that he walks are pocked with this kind of throbbing rottenness and it's somehow melodic and not as filthy and ugly as one might suspect. Sometimes it's alright to just drown in the anxiety, to let it swallow you up, you unwanted stranger you.
*Essay originally published June, 2009