New York's Motel Motel is something of an acquired listen, mostly due to singer Eric Engle's distinctive, twangy voice, which will either fascinate you—or not. Engle sounds as if he's just crawled out of an old coal mine, vocal cords etched by years of soot and cigarettes, to start wailing away in some dank saloon somewhere while accompanied by an equally grizzled fiddle player. Ryan Adams, he ain't.
But this countrified, rattling sound is also filtered through the concert stages and open mics of the band's home turf of Brooklyn, which adds heavier (if equally scratchy) guitars and a darker, more garage-rock undertone. Opener "Harlem" places Engle's vocals front and center whereas "Cigarettes" devolves to sound like what might happen if Pink Floyd stopped by the Grand Ole Opry. "Mexico" puts some brushes on the snare drum, a bit of honky-tonk in the piano and a little washtub in the bass while Engle caterwauls over the top about a wasted life. And "Combate" is combative, indeed, with belligerent drums and a secondary screech behind Engle's vocal.
It might take a few spins before you can make heads or tails of it, but you've gotta admit: Motel Motel is unique. [3 out of 5 stars]