Way back in 2014, psych-rock was on the upswing. Unknown Mortal Orchestra had recently released “II,” Tame Impala was fresh off the trail for the “Lonerism” tour and the British four-piece Temples dropped “Sun Structures,” an album that was a definitional distillation of 1960s psych-rock for the 21st century. “Sun Structures” paired pop-sensitive songwriting with stomping percussion, sitar-imitating guitars and plenty of “ah’s” delivered in Beatles-esque British accents that made them come off more like “uh’s.”
The entire psych-rock scene was totally, well, psyched for where the band would progress in the future.
Unfortunately, “Volcano” happened. The 2017 sophomore album from Temples was somewhere between an uninspired videogame soundtrack and a pieced-together maze of chord changes laced with classic psych-rock tropes like delayed drums and half-step note changes. The fact that a band so well initially received took over three years to release such a boring follow-up was enough for many fans to strike a mutiny.
With expectations lower than the brow of “Volcano,” it is easier to judge Temple’s most recent effort, “Hot Motion,” through a lens of pure subjectivity. Released Aug. 27, “Hot Motion” makes it seem like Temples hasn’t changed at all in the five years since the release of “Sun Structures.” The annoying, toylike synthesizers found on “Volcano” have all but disappeared, leaving the band simplified and stripped back, forcing the members to make the best of their own individual talent with very few tricks up their sleeves.
While there are no instances where the use of synthesizers could be labeled as bodacious on “Hot Motion,” there are a few tracks where some light and breezy synth work really adds a welcome element of psychedelia to the mix. The final track, “Monuments,” places some woodwind-like keyboards throughout the L-R pan, growing the track to keep its organicism and unpredictability.
This being said, the album is much more neatly produced, which takes away some of the individuality that “Sun Structures” brought to the table. There are some elements throughout “Hot Motion” that can actually be traced back to specific moments in classic rock history. For example, the nodding downbeat-centric drum beat on “The Beam” bears a striking resemblance to a similar beat on The Beatles’ “Penny Lane.”
The Beatles set it as a psychedelic precedent on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and consequently “Hot Motion” wouldn’t be a psych-rock album without the obligatory reference to drugs. “You're either on something/Or you're onto something,” lead singer Edward Bagshaw sneakily observes on “You’re Either on Something.” Temples has always made sure its lyrical propositions are clever and thought-provoking. Just look to the “Sun Structures” cut “A Question Isn’t Answered,” which proposes that “A question isn’t answered/If an answer isn’t questioned.” This is a testament to how similar the two albums are and begs the question — with “Hot Motion,” are Temples just trying to play on the success of “Sun Structures”?
Regardless of Temples’ motives, “Hot Motion” is a small sea swirling with provoking ideas yearning to be brought to fruition, but it fails to live up to “Sun Structures.” In the uncertainty following “Volcano,” it seems like Temples is done experimenting for a little while and has settled on a solid brand and sound. Who knows, maybe the band will develop this sound into something more inventive in the future.