The newest album from the Bay Area-based psychedelic soul band Monophonics, Sage Motel on Colemine Records, is a collection of retro-looking workouts that shimmer and drip in cosmic fashion.
Frontman, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Kelly Finnigan runs the show but there are a host of musicians helping out, including the core group: Austin Bohlman – drums, percussion, Max Ramey – electric bass, guitar (B1) Ryan Scott – trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, background vocals. The album is arraigned with a motel visit motif, but that only comes into play during the brief awkward instrumental “Check-In” and the bass bumping slipping out of closer “Check Out”.
The title track opens the proverbial rented room door as the smooth retro soul, propelled by strong drumming, fuzzy guitar flares, and electro keys set the tone. The floating psych-rock-soul can be a bit sleepy at times (“Let That Sink In”) but when the band kicks it up a touch (“Love You Better”) the results improve. Finnigan sings with a borderline falsetto as the outfit’s biggest influence, Curtis Mayfield, receives constant tributes, predominantly on the string-laden “The Shape Of My Teardrops” and the slow torch song sashaying of “Never Stop Saying These Words”. Finnigan uses a more direct vocal style on “Broken Boundaries” as the band shifts into a Brothers era Black Keys sound while the retro-soul of “Crash & Burn” delivers the heartache and pain around lush instrumentation.
As a whole Sage Motel is a tone record of restrained, warbling, retro veering, psychedelic soul but there is one standout that should be heard on its own. “Warpaint” is an awesome combination of all their skills and Mayfield love, kicking up the energy to start, then bringing it back down, before a grooving finale complete with great guitar work and pumping horns. Efforts like this make checking into the Sage Motel with Monophonics worth the time.