Green Lights is an ironic title for the latest glacially-paced album by jazzy R&B solo act Dynamite Motel. The album’s strengths at first appear to be in its electronic and acoustic influences, but those tire eventually and the album concludes with a sound you wish they’d had all along.
The sluggish and warm bass on “Without You” contrasts the distorted cymbals and an echoing snare, giving the song a heightened artificiality. This contrast appears again in the soulful but effects-drenched vocals. “Le Feu” is another standout track on Green Lights. Sung entirely in French and accompanied only by a piano, this song is sad, subtle, and gorgeous. It’s followed by another track sung and titled in french, “Belles Histoires.” It’s another stripped-down, acoustic-based song, this time with just a guitar and vocals that exhibit a mournful majesty, made even darker by low-frequency harmonies in the background. “Tippin’ Over” has a very synthetic sound made that much worse, and corny, by drums saturated in reverb. Mindy Amelotte, Dynamite Motel’s creator and driving force, sings in a brusque and breathy way that draws attention but doesn’t demand it.
“Capsized” is a more up-tempo acoustic guitar track than “Belles Histoires,” but adopts the latter’s dark atmosphere with the help of an aggressive blues edge. “Spokes” has a lighter blues sound that also has hints of country and an upbeat Feist-like charm. “Off the Page” is a pretty wide departure from the rest of the record. This is another track with effects-heavy vocals, but in a way that’s reminiscent of a Top 40 pop star. The whole song seems like an attempt at a hit, but the brightness of the instrumentals becomes marred by the dullness of Mindy’s vocal performance, initially making the song feel bizarre in a way you can’t quite put your finger on.
“That Swing” is a fun, jazzy acoustic guitar track that surprisingly has drums, as well as a very present bass whose warm tones suggest it’s either an upright or acoustic bass. The phenomenal vocal performances are upbeat, light, and charming. Around the one-minute mark, background vocals are used to create something that sounds like horns. Not even one minute later arrives an expertly-performed horn solo that for some reason sounds like it was recorded in a void, but unfortunately attracts much less attention than it deserves.
Later in the song when Mindy creates a back-and-forth dynamic with the horn, her powerful voice and strong tone sounds like it’s very close to the audience, but so far away from the horn that you’re left to wonder why they’re interacting at all. Despite that, its exciting nature and more diverse instrumentation make this easily my favorite track, and I can’t help but wonder why it appears so late in the record. Rather than a “they saved the best for last” scenario, I was left wishing the rest of the album sounded like this. Green Lights contains some exceptional ideas, but they’re often either made less obvious by outdated production choices or repeated too many times, therefore losing their effect.
Green Lights is on Bandcamp as well as an EP, a live album, and the first full-length, Muses.
Written by Brian Charles Clarke
*edited by Kate Erickson