Northwest music scene
If you have ever listened to really any Pink Floyd you know that it’s essentially a damnable sin to cherry pick songs. Dark Side of the Moon is written as an album. You don’t just get to decide that you only feel like hearing “Money” right now. Who do you think you are? Continuity of listening is one thing on a long list that Pink Floyd demands of its audience; Yakima’s excellent contribution to the Northwest’s musical landscape, Pastel Motel, is no different in this respect. A self-styled “prog-pop” band, Pastel Motel is ambitious and asks that its audience mirror that ambition. In today’s world where we store half our brains digitally, processing thoughts in dozens of mental tabs running in parallel, we often don’t have the RAM required to run hefty .exe files like Pastel Motel’s May 2016 self-released E. A St. Close a few of those tabs, push play with some half decent headphones, chill out, and engage. Now that you’ve done this you are ready for a truly worthwhile experience. I shall now dispense with the preaching and commence with the exposition.
E. A St. (rather impressively engineered, produced, and mixed by the band, though mastered by Troy Glessner) begins with the short introduction, “Time Traveling,” a psychedelic groove jam, complete with synthesized sitar sounds. It breaks off suddenly, as if this time travel were interrupted by the same cataclysmic event that is the background for “Animalism (Parts 1-3).” This song, clocking in at 16:38, begins with a relatively short vocally centered piece in which Ryan Maxey describes a devolutionary process instigated by a nuclear war. Cities are abandoned, skyscrapers are left behind as “tombs”– monuments to mankind’s hubris, and humans swiftly revert back to animals. This section quickly breaks down into a long ethereal instrumental that underscores the insignificance of civilization relative to the long scope of deep time. “Animalism” is the high point of the record to my taste, though the ensuing tracks are all excellent for different reasons. Pastel Motel’s appeal to many sensibilities is a testament to their virtuosic control of genric sense. “Blanket” is a rather poppy single-length song about the gradual dissolution of a relationship. The speaker is the one we hear being victimized by time and the “staleness” of the relationship but when Ryan Maxey’s character sings “You don’t keep me warm anymore” the blanket metaphor implicates himself. The speaker has left the object of his affections worn and threadbare; used up.
The title track is a hefty 19:40 work subdivided into twelve sections. Each subtitle is part of a continuous poem. East A Street in Yakima is nothing particularly special. You can go down the length of it on Google Maps (as I immediately did) if you like. For most of its length, it’s a one way road that terminates downtown. Ricky Maxey (Ryan’s cousin) describes Yakima’s dual nature while simultaneously exploring the split nature of his heroine. I remember once staying at a hotel there for a conference. I went out for a smoke and was quickly accosted by the woman at the front desk of our hotel. “Please don’t walk around at night, there is a lot of gang activity here,” she said. Perhaps she was being dramatic but there is certainly a dark side to the “Palm Springs of Washington” (though what could be darker than Palm Springs really? What a depressing place). Dichotomies are couched within dichotomies.
E. A St. evokes a strong sense of claustrophobia with small town America. Yet, as shown in the penultimate track “Exit 84,” escaping isn’t a matter of place or even time; it’s not something that can be willed. The speaker of “Exit 84” leaves Yakima for the mountains, soon needing to move further onto the “forest’s edge.” The assumption is, of course, that the journey doesn’t stop here. Nor is it likely that Pastel Motel’s musical exploration will end here. They will use the constant nagging existential dissatisfaction to fuel further experimentation and further evolution.
The instrumentation on E. A St. will not disappoint. The tones are varied to match the pathos of the given song. The vocals are good– reminiscent of Silversun Pickups’ better (read: more honest) moments or even Seattle’s own The Pale Pacific. If you do feel the need to sin mortally, “Deprivation” is a great single serving rocker that counterpoints the softness of opener “Time Traveling” quite well. Seriously though, do yourself a favor. Reserve some time and give the whole album a careful listen. It’s well worth it.
YAKIMA HERALD REPUBLIC
Pastel Motel, which just released its second album, does a far-out, spacey, jazz-influenced brand of prog-psych rock. Their sound, seemingly tailored to solo listening on headphones, translates surprisingly well to the stage primarily because of the evident energy involved.
Yakima's Pastel Motel: ‘E. A St.’ern philosophy
The first Pastel Motel album, 2013’s “Subject is Subjective,” hinted at the band’s shaggy, improvisational psych-jam ambition; the Yakima band’s new one, “E. A St.” realizes that ambition and then some.
That 2013 debut was experimental — and, like, far-out man — by Yakima rock music standards, but it was still essentially a conventional album with some arty flourishes. “E. A St.,” by contrast, is a full-on Brian-Wilson-gone-crazy, maximalist prog-punk picture of self-indulgence.
And it is great.
There are six tracks on the album, and three of them are more than nine minutes long. The longest, “E. A St. (Parts I-XII),” clocks in at a preposterous 19:48. On a rock album! In 2016! I mean, nobody does that. Nobody.
“That was the idea,” said Ricky Maxey, one of the band’s guitarists and vocalists. “We want to do what we want to do.”
And, while that kind of unchecked self-assurance is admirable in a band, it can also pretty easily lead to an Icarus-too-close-to-the-sun type situation. That it doesn’t in the case of “E. A St.” is a testament to Pastel Motel’s inventiveness and musical cohesion. Even more than that, it’s a testament to the band’s energy.
The garbage bin of rock ’n’ roll history is full of ambitious and talented bands that listened to Miles’ “Bitches Brew” or some mid-’70s Yes records and figured experimentation and technical skill were all it took to follow that template. But they were too clean, too theoretical, and they forgot that the driving force of rock music is its rawness, passion and jangly energy — qualities Pastel Motel has in spades.
“The whole idea of why we play music, and what we do every night, is to dump every ounce out,” Ricky Maxey, 25, said. “It’s to go on an adventure ourselves and to bring everyone else with us.”
He and his cousin Ryan Maxey, 25, both sing and play guitar. Jerry Gamez, 30, plays drums. And Eric DeLeon, 24, plays bass. The Maxeys and Gamez have been in Pastel Motel since the beginning. DeLeon is their third bassist, having replaced Brennan White last March.
The cousins, having grown up together, have an intuitive sense of how to jam and improvise off of each other. Impressively, Gamez and DeLeon fit right in, often leading the charge during the band’s impressive flights of fancy. The near 20-minute title track “(Parts I-XII)” was just one take for Gamez, whose drumming sets the tone for much of it.
Letting Gamez, whose background is in metal but who said he’s been listening to a lot of jazz lately (Aside: No duh, Jerry), lead the way on other songs has led to some great live improvisation. And that carried over onto the album.
“That’s what makes ‘Animalism’ (16:38) and ‘Time Traveling’ (9:15) so fun,” DeLeon said. “You see where Jerry wants to go and you go with him.”
The four of them have practiced together enough and played enough live shows that they can read cues like that.
“I know what Jerry’s going to do as soon as Jerry starts doing it,” Ricky Maxey said. “And with Ryan, especially when we’re improvising, we know what each other is going to do. If I start screwing up, Ryan knows how I’m going to screw it up, so he can save me.”
All four members attribute that ability, in part, to their extramusical relationship to one another. They genuinely like and trust each other, so when they get on stage everything is simpatico.
“There’s no way this band could work with all these jams if we weren’t friends outside of the band,” Gamez said. “If there was tension, those jams just wouldn’t come out.”
Their songwriting process incorporates that same kind of collaboration. The lyrics on this album are almost entirely written by the Maxey cousins. Ryan’s tend to be ambiguous, Ricky’s more direct and autobiographical. But the band makes all of them sound distinctly Pastel Motel.
And, while the defining characteristic of “E. A St.” is its musical experimentation, the lyrics are worth examination. Some have a strong sense of place, pinning the band right here in Yakima. Others are broader, hinting at a creeping darkness that is alternately personal and universal.
The Maxeys aren’t into literal explanations of their lyrics, so they won’t divulge the specific origins of a given song. But that’s fine; it allows the listener to draw his or her own conclusions.
“One of my favorite things about music is how 10 people can listen to the same song and have a different feeling about it,” Ricky Maxey said.
Which makes “E. A St.” something of a concept album without a concept. Or without a stated one, anyway, except maybe that the inherently subjective listening experience is itself the concept.
Like Pastel Motel’s live performances, it is an emotional record. An expansive, sometimes messy record that is all the more vital for its messiness. It’s the record they didn’t quite have the ability to make a few years ago — a daring, risk-taking record that challenges listeners. Not everyone will like it, but it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.
“We had these conversations about wanting to do something like this back when we first started,” Gamez said. “I remember talking to Ryan and Rickey, saying, ‘Why are we limited to five-minute songs?’”
There’s an enthralling sense of fearlessness brimming in Pastel Motel‘s sophomore LP, E. A St.. The followup to the alternative four-piece’s 2013 debut Subject is Subjective begins with a majestic three-part trip into pure neo-psychedelia interspersed with some starry space-pop, clocking in at nearly 17 minutes. It’s a bold opening that sees the band diving right into the intriguing experimentation that was teased on their first concept album.
This album actually only consists of six songs, switching between long and obscure tracks like the aforementioned ‘Animalism’ and a mix of more radio-length songs that explore various alternative genres and show off their extensive range of influences. ‘Blanket’, for example, with its distant, howling vocals and lo-fi production, has a somewhat grungy demo feel to it, while the riotous ‘Deprivation’ exudes strong tinges of emo and punk. Middle track ‘Exit 84’, on the other hand, takes things down to a slow, piano-filled ballad with some interesting hints of jazz.
On the whole, E. A St. does what every second album should do: it shows growth. Their massively sweeping kaleidoscopic arrangements call to mind that of Pink Floyd which they then infuse with a contemporary bite that echoes the likes of Modest Mouse and Manchester Orchestra. Progressive indie pop is their main weapon, however, with the 12-part title track that, standing at staggering 20 minutes and featuring some lightning guitar work, perfectly demonstrates the sheer euphoric power of their music. It’s daring stuff, even if it can prove a bit tedious towards the end.
Perhaps the most intriguing track comes in the form of ‘Time Traveling’, the album’s closer. Beginning with a decidedly Eastern sound filled with bongo beats and even a sitar, it’s quickly replaced by a steady marching beat and ominous bass riff that soon tumbles into a raw and emotional cataclysm of sound that wouldn’t feel that out of place in a dystopian apocalypse movie.
The alternative rock bands of the 90s are the clearest influence with Pastel Motel, but there’s a distinct modernness to them with their innovative fusion of progressive indie pop that their previous album lacked. While this second entry into their discography may be messier and less coherent, it does fit in well with their reputation for some hectic and largely improvisational live performances, and also proves why there’s still a welcome place for underground avant-garde music such as this.
JP'S MUSIC BLOG
From the Northwest comes the the latest album from the progressive rock band Pastel Motel titled "E.A. St." It will become available in May, but I can assure you that this is a strong follow-up to their debut album which came out two years ago. The new six-song release takes a page out of the Pink Floyd song book as they begin their new album with the epic, sixteen-minute sound adventure of "Animalism (Pt. I, II & III)." They continue with the grunge-like influence of "Blanket," before moving on to the complete twenty-minute piece of "E.A. St. (Pt. I-XII)." You get a sense for their love of experimentation on this release as Pastel Motel try their hand at every genre including the jazzy ballad "Exit 84" and the punk-like fury of "Deprivation." The album closes with the chaotic build-up of the nine-minute "Time Traveling" tale.
OLDER PRESS ABOUT THE DEBUT ALBUM
"SUBJECT IS SUBJECTIVE"
HEAR THE INDIE
"As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the better albums I've listened to in recent times."
Pastel Motel: An accessible mix of musical styles played with energy and creativity
"Your indie-rock friends will like it. Your punk-rock friends will like it. Your classic-rock friends will like it. Your grandma might even like it; Pastel Motel is that accessible. That’s a neat trick for a band with this kind of depth and creativity"
Good Night Magazine
Pastel Motel Gets Subjective
I'm starting to think that my editor can read my mind because I’ve received another album that I absolutely adored. This time around, it was the two-year-old Yakima, WA area group, Pastel Motel. They just released their freshman album, titled Subject is Subjective. Their original bassist, Erik Maxey, played on this album, but recently left the band for the military and has been replaced by another accomplished bassist, Brennan White. White is also an accomplished guitarist and he will be playing with Pastel Motel at future live performances and studio recordings. Subject is Subjective is at once both experimental, yet soaked in emotion. Maybe I should say "spoiler alert" before you read on, but this is a concept album in the vain of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, or maybe even more so the soundtrack from Flash Gordon, (I'll explain in abit). First though, just like Aeroplane or Sgt. Pepper's, the entire recording has a cohesion and shared storyline that is missing from 99.99993% of all modern albums. The underlying context seems to be about the unbreakable bond between a son and his mother, and the evolving emotions he continues to come to terms with for years after her death. The Flash Gordon comparison, (one of my favorite soundtracks of all time), is drawn since Pastel Motel likes to incorporate various, ambient sounds into the start of each song. Sometimes, these sounds blend into the song and become a part of its backbone. More often, they become buried underneath the song and only reappear as the song comes to a close. There is such a firm cohesion between the story arc in the tracks that it could be plucked up and dropped directly into a Jim Jarmuch film with no need to change a thing. The underpinnings of the material is that universal. I've listened to Subject is Subjective a few different ways and although it was perfect in any of the environments, I believe this is an album best appreciated when heard through a nice pair headphones. Some of the quieter, ambient sounds and instruments can be lost in entertainment or car speakers. When taken in via headphones, you will often get the impression that they are performing only for you, and given the gravity of most of the songs, that’s a good thing. It just feels even more personal and I like it. Even though most of the songs are on the border between melancholy and deep sadness, this is not a particularly depressing album. There is almost always a sense of hope and acceptance, or at least firm resolution and coping. In fact, there is a disconnection between many of the tempos and lyrics that can confuse and delight. The heavy, acoustic guitars help to reinforce the emotional weight. The first track, “Stay,” starts with the sounds of what can only be a car crash that fades into a soft acoustic guitar and flutes, with sweet, light singing. This track establishes the mother/son theme and it has somewhat of a bipolar tempo, although it seems more organic than some alternative and grunge bands of the 90s, (think Creep by Radio Head, but one of the many, acoustic, female lead vocal covers that are all over the place). The next track, “Get Away,” mixes a now slightly strained, gravely voice with a steady tempo and bright instrumentals that recall the songs from 60’s and 70’s cartoons like Archie or Scooby Doo. A favorite song would have to be “Dream,” which has a clean acoustic guitar and quiet drums that follow a clip from The Wizard Of Oz. The vocals have a bit of echo to them and the arranging is very much in the vein of Metallica's “One.” By this time, it is made very clear that the mother in this story is no longer living. “Murphy's World” easily ties for my favorite song. With its surreal, slow, and mumbled voice opening the track that fades away into ‘telephone’ vocals, it’s peppered with a bit of an electronica feel, a classic strip club vibe, and a lot of staccato throughout. A couple of times I thought that I might be listening to an unreleased Portishead song. “Reflections” is a close second to the tied favorites. It's an instrumental track, which starts with rain that blends in with a soft bass and glass slide that then fades into the sound of insects, while sounds of an album spins quietly on a turntable. It's as if its there as a palate cleanser and I enjoyed that. One of the things I liked best about this album was that it gave me just enough cohesion and emotional DNA that I began to think about the songs in relation to the previous ones. What emotions was the performer feeling right now? Had the mother left the child's life before she died? Was the crashing sound an indicator that she had died at the start of “Stay?” All in all, Subject is Subjective feels almost like an act of catharsis for its creator. There is no denying the power of the sentiments contained within and I hope that the intense pain laid into the fabric of these songs did not come from personal life tragedy, and I'm afraid that that's the only way the emotions could feel so personal and genuine.