ALBUM REVIEW: The Motet's Death Or Devotion
Words by Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)
In the world of music, funk has undergone a unique evolution. It’s history extends into the future and the past simultaneously. From funk samples in rap to funk leanings in rock and roll and country, funk’s sensibilities are as influential as any style in music history. In modern years, a true funk renaissance appears to be in full swing as bands like Vulfpeck, Turkuaz, The New Mastersounds, and The Motet are staples of a live music scene that extends to venues and festival stages nationwide. In Colorado, funk’s home team has been anchored by Boulder-based collective, The Motet for years.
Death or Devotion, their latest effort, sounds like a musical time capsule that was contributed to by heavyweights like Teddy Pendergast, The Neville Brothers, Zapp and Roger, Tower of Power, and Earth Wind and Fire. As The Motet’s lineup has morphed, it’s core still hangs on the timely drumming of Dave Watts, the impeccable bass of Garrett Sayers, and the tasteful artistry of guitarist Ryan Jalbert and keywizard, Joey Porter. With more recent changes in vocalists and horns, Parris Fleming (Trumpet), Drew Sayers (saxophone), and Lyle Divinsky (vocals) have inspired a vintage authenticity that makes them all the more unique in an era where a lot of funk has been moving towards an electro-future-funk vibe.
The first song, “Highly Compatible,” is prototypical Motet, spanning the funk gamut. The blend of sounds incorporates disco, funk, electro-funk, and soul, and it reads like a groove encyclopedia. Evocative of “Disco Inferno,” the main theme paired bouncy bass lines with smooth vocals and vintage production. Divinsky’s vocals on this track are quintessential soul, almost a little too light for my tastes, but vibrant and polished.
“Whatcha Gonna Bring,” has had some exposure already this year as Headcount used it to support their “get out the vote” mission. This track is more my speed than the album’s opener. Divinsky’s vocals had a little more grit, muscle, and depth. Also, understated guitarist, Ryan Jalbert delivers thrills with his fills, even if he says, “pocket pays the bills.” The fact that this solo is one of very few I’ve ever heard him take is a testament to the “group” mentality of the band. Everyone serves the whole over themselves.
“The Jokes On Me,” asserts itself quickly as a bass driven number with tight horn arrangements that create a multi-layered groove. This tune sounded closer to a Lettuce jam than a Motet one, but that line is blurry already.
The title track was the first tune on the album that featured Joey Porter’s keyboard flash. Porter’s sound shares a lot with Zapp and Roger’s mercurial synths. When he takes the lead, aural confetti fires from laser cannons as auditory disco balls bathe Studio 54 in light.
As if each tune was designed to showcase a different member, “That Dream,” kicked off with Dave Watts’ signature snap on the drums. This might be my favorite track on the record. Everyone in the band is firing on all cylinders. I have other observations I could convey, but they all seemed trivial next to the fact that my 2 year old son smiled at me and started to dance when the tune hit. Kid tested, father approved!
“Get it Right,” launches with aggressive funk bass. The composition of this song rests heavily on Garret Sayers’ bass. Each other element works around the bass line in an interlocking pattern of happy noises. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the obvious similarity to Parliament Funkadelic’s, “One Nation Under a Groove,” as well. The resolution of this song is exemplary psychedelic funk. It doesn’t get much better.
“Kneebone,” is a sludgy, thick, heavy type of thang that immediately reminded me of the funk rock fusion of “Faith No More.” While the Horns dragged the tune away from the alt-rock vibe, the bass and drums continued down the path of 90’s industrial funk (perhaps a sub-genre that doesn’t exist, but should because of this song).
By “Supernova,” the full arsenal of musical weapons have been introduced, and the rest of the album has a casual confidence. This track in particular has a bit of a Jamiroquai vibe. Near the middle of the song there was a vocal section that really reminded me of the layered harmonies of some of Parliament’s choral arrangements as well as newer phenomenon, Childish Gambino.
“Contagious” is quintessential Motet. The production is smooth and consistent with everything they’ve released. The vocal layers, horn arrangements, driving rhythms, and expert mastering fit together like the gears in a ‘64 Impala.
If “Contagious” drove like a 6-4, “Speed of Light” is when the hydraulics and disco ball engage. This song has serious digital effects, futuristic UFO synths, ripping guitar, and a relentless groove that carries this intergalactic hooptie into the great beyond.
Death or Devotion is an apt title. With their lineup changes, musical history, and longevity, the only reason they haven’t “died” is their devotion. It is evident in this impressive and tenured effort. The sturdy foundation on which this band was built still stands, albeit with some remodeling. This album fits nicely in their catalog and cements them as stalwarts of funk’s new era.