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Mike Doughty
Stellar Motel
Snack Bar Records
www.mikedoughty.com


I have been listening to Mike Doughty sing songs for more than two decades now. In some ways, that seems like a long time to follow one guy doing what he does... but Doughty always seems to find a way to refresh what he is doing, make something old seem somewhat new and vibrant. In fact, that is probably the best word I could find to describe Doughty: Vibrant.

If you're new to the Doughty tip (although I don't see how that could be possible), then here is a short refresher course. Doughty started back in the 1990s with his band Soul Coughing. They made some amazing acid jazzy records filled with catchy beat poet lyrics and groovy samples. Then Doughty went solo, recorded an acoustic album and self-released it long before the internet made that a plausible thing to do. Then Doughty recorded some more albums, signed with pal Dave Matthews' label, made some more records, left said label, made another record, self-released a bunch of demos through his website to his best fans, re-recorded a bunch of Soul Coughing tunes and released a cool record of that, and all of this was done while maintaining one of the best touring presences in the history of modern rock and roll. The “Question Jar Tours”, wherein Doughty answers questions that audience members or internet stalkers have left for him in between songs is always a good night of fun. There are a lot of haters in the world who claim to not like Doughty for a number of reasons, but I laugh them in the face and proclaim simply that Doughty, unlike so many, continues to turn out great music that is easy to listen to and honestly, a ton of fun.

That leads us to Stellar Motel. Released in the late summer of 2014 amid said Question Jar tour, Stellar Motel has a little bit of a lot going on. Doughty takes his turn trying out some hip hop, and does an admirable job, taking a genre that tends to lack musicality and turning in some brilliant tunes, laden with catchy grooves and some great rapping. “The Champion” is more of a Doughty ballad, lush with strings and clever lyrics until ¾ of the way through when MC Frontalot chimes in and offers up a smooth guest rap. “Pretty Wild” is more what one might expect from hip hop, and features Doughty rapping, joined by Clare Bizna$$ and Ash Wednesday. “Let Me Lie” finds Doughty throwing down some rap over a weirdly cool Atari-inspired electronic beat, more reminiscent of Kraftwerk than 50Cent, but when guest Big Dipper drops in to lend a rap, things get a bit more urban.

About one half of the album leans towards this experimental hip hop and the remainder of the record stays more in what would be considered more traditional Doughty territory. The lead single from the album was “Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating In The Future” and what a song to kick the album off! Dirty drums and clanging banjos carry almost the entire song, with Doughty spitting out some of his finest poetry in a few albums. “When The Night Is Long” turns up the anthemic spirit, filled with chiming guitars, lush strings, and a driving beat. This song builds on the same kind of spirit that one of my favorite Doughty tunes, “I Hear The Bells,” also contains. This song stands in stark contrast to the song that immediately follows it, “Oh My God Yeah Fuck It.” This song is an exercise in rhythmic noisiness and fun, featuring street jazz ensemble Moon Hooch and Miss Eaves. This one might be a bit harsh to get through, especially since it follows such a smooth bit of pop, but once things get rolling Doughty's rapping and Moon Hooch's wailing saxophones make for a very nice and highly artistic and irreverent take on hip hop. Miss Eaves is great, and her raps are perfect.

After some 20 years, most artists tend to lose a bit of the sharpness off of their teeth, but not Doughty. He continues to explore music in a highly artistic and poetic way, not constraining himself to one particular style of music or one instrument. His programming remains interesting, his lyrics remain graphic and acute, his voice is better than ever as his singing continues to grow and mature in depth. Stellar Motel might have some challenging moments for casual listeners, but those that have been with Doughty for the long haul understand that this is his art, and well worth every moment.

-Embo Blake

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Mike Doughty



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