THE PARADISE MOTEL Left Over Life To Kill (Infectious)

Possibly the debut release by this Australian sextet (more informative press releases please!), the fact that The Paradise Motel are soon to be supporting the mighty Sparklehorse on their British tour was enough to get me interested. Mark Linkous and crew have clearly chosen well, because "Left Over Life To Kill" is a pretty stunning album.

Let’s get the obvious criticism out of the way first: The Paradise Motel unashamedly play Sadcore, and they do so with a female vocalist, so they must be Mazzy Star copyists, mustn’t they? Well, no, because Merida Sussex’s honey-flavoured Lockets vocals are so smooth and sensuous that they make Hope Sandoval sound like Rod Stewart: two lines into the first track and you’re already thinking of her as some kind of troubled choirgirl, if that didn’t make her sound like Marianne Faithful (and consequently like desiccated crow’s feet). Their sound is spookier than Mazzy Star’s, as well: here the threats are described, rather than implied, and they don’t suddenly turn into The Velvet Underground when all else fails, either.

Having successfully seen off the immediate competition, what else makes The Paradise Motel so great? "Left Over Life To Kill" (strange title, I know, and not made any easier to decode by the cover photographs of surgical instruments) is an album of many great moments: for me, it’s the subtle prog drum patterns that meander behind the string section on "Calling You" as Merida Sussex’s vocals float over the top, every element of the song trying to pull the whole in a different direction: it shouldn’t work but it does, immaculately. Then there’s the Nymanesque string orchestration on "Watch Illuminum", or the haunting repeated choruses that close many of the tracks and send you scrabbling for the booklet to check the lyrics. And those lyrics - my fave lines are from "Stones": "Got hooked on valium’s wishing bone/Pictures of God everywhere I go/Katy Lied on the stereo" - Richard Linklater meets Elizabeth Wurtzel in the space of three lines; astonishing. There’s another transcendent moment later in that song, with an acoustic guitar line on top of some maliciously awkward drum programming, another amazing few seconds’ worth of creative tension.

The Paradise Motel will never be famous - this is gloomy music, remember, and gloomy don’t sell (even though Mazzy Star albums quietly shift in the millions across the Atlantic, them being the exception that proves the rule) - but such sacrifice must surely be worth it for art as great as this. If your tastes run to Sadcore bands like Spain, Red House Painters, Sparklehorse, American Music Club, Mazzy Star (predictably!), Tindersticks or even Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, tune in now.

THE PARADISE MOTEL Hollywood Landmines (Infectious)

THE PARADISE MOTEL Flight Paths (Infectious)

Arriving seemingly minutes after I first heard their very fine 1997 debut album "Left Over Life To Kill", here are the new single and album respectively from Australian sextet The Paradise Motel. I’m happy to report that they find them in even more enigmatic, mixed-up form than previously, making those early Mazzy Star comparisons look increasingly tenuous because, quite simply, Mazzy Star were never this good. "Flight Paths" sees them edging ever closer to the doomy antipodean blues sound of countrymen like the late, lamented Go-Betweens, The Triffids or maybe even Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in one of their mellower moods. (Sometime Cave alumnus Victor Van Vugt handles production, engineering and mixing duties.)

Musically these new songs are saturated to an even greater degree by immaculate string arrangements, entwined around melodies as desolately beautiful as ever, and Merida Sussex’s vocals - surely the smoothest, most honeyed tones working in rock today - are as exquisite as ever, but it’s the lyrics that really make the album. You may raise an eyebrow at the odd piece of cred-seeking song title dropping, the kind of technique that Noel Gallagher used to mash up most of the last Oasis album (check out lines such as "built life out of glory boxes" or "sick of all the urban hymns"), but these lapses in judgement aside "Flight Paths" is a jewel box of poetic delights. Take the chilling opener "Aeroplanes" for example: "Out here/between the earth loops/and the refrigerator hums/beneath the flight paths/most nights I wanna shoot ‘em down". The Paradise Motel is a scary place, kids, don’t go there! (Frontline Assembly could leard a lot from them!)

Best bits for me are the single, "Hollywood Landmines", which may or may not be about a faded female movie star ("And I was every goddamned princess pie/embroiled in bitter estates/balling a thousand balding men" and a frankly improbable cover of The Cars’ "Drive", instrumented only by sweeping strings, four bass drums, an accordion and a french horn - madness, but it works superbly.

Second time around The Paradise Motel are taking giant steps towards forging their own identity, with this lush, quirky and desolate album. Since the recording of "Flight Paths" they’ve been touring with, among many others, Sparklehorse and His Name Is Alive, for my money two of the finest, defiantly uncommercial bands of the decade; it would be interesting to see where that takes The Paradise Motel’s music next. (One gripe: what happened to the tracks "Caravans" and "Thin Arms", mentioned in the booklet but absent from the CD?)

THE PARADISE MOTEL Drive (Infectious)

What is it about great bands that they seem helplessly drawn towards The Paradise Motel? Having toured with His Name Is Alive and Black Box Recorder, now Mogwai form an orderly queue to offer their remix services for this, the second single from their divine second album "Flight Paths", and rightly raved about by Kev in the last issue.

"Drive" is a cover of The Cars' old lighters-aloft tearjerking stadium rocker, instrumented only by a string section and an armoury of bass drums. It's incredible, but the four different versions on this promo single succeed in bringing out different aspects of the original without harming the whole. The two Juniper mixes manage to anchor the song down to a more conventional instrumental structure without destroying its fragile brilliance (a deal of which rests with Merida Sussex's floaty vocals), whilst Mogwai's remix takes it in the other direction with subtle, shifting layers of distortion and wooziness. One day, if there's any justice, this band will be very famous indeed. Until then, treasure them for being so good and so very unspoilt.

THE PARADISE MOTEL Reworkings (Infectious)

There's something about The Paradise Motel that causes great bands and artists to be attracted to them like flies on sherbet. They've already toured with the mighty Sparklehorse and His Name Is Alive, a Mogwai remix of their magisterial string quartet and bass drum cover of The Cars' AORtastic "Drive" appeared on 7" a few months back, and now this limited edition remix album has Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo and Mark Eitzel, once of American Music Club, pitching in.

The source material consists of their luscious last album "Flight Paths", and the approaches tested by the assembled talent vary from light sprinklings of reverberent fairy dust (Echoboy's minimally mangled "Derwent River Star") to complete Kevin Shields-style overhauls (Lee Renaldo's incredible "Lee's Trees", which begins with what sounds like a drum kit being kicked around the studio). The end result is a wonderful way to spend 30 minutes: unusually Merida Sussex's honey-smeared floaty vocals remain largely untouched, so you can appreciate the contents of "Reworkings" as proper songs as well as fantastic, architectural experiments in light and shade.

"Reworkings" is available as a bonus CD alongside the reissued version of "Flight Paths", or on its own wrapped in exclusive artwork by sending a 6 cheque made payable to 'Infectious Records Ltd' to The Paradise Motel Reworkings Offer, PO Box 4226, London SW6 2XG. Chances are you'll be glad you did.