Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Written by: TL on 06/06/2016 21:50:25
When their debut album "It Never Goes Out" came out back in 2011, Massachusetts-based The Hotel Year's qualities were lost on most people. Yet Tiny Engines Records were keeping eyes on them, and three years later, after a minor band name alteration, The Hotelier became emo's most important current band bar none with the release of the already seminal "Home, Like No Place Is There". The album was ripe with poignant emotional turmoil and with despair for friends, lovers, and society, sent towards listeners in such a potent stream that you couldn't but surrender your ears and heartstrings and be left all torn up by the end of the phenomenal "Dendron".
Expectations have been stacked high then, among those in the know, who, through reading, have caught glimpses into the mind of singer/bassist Christian Holden and their gender-neutral, anarcho-punk considerations about the band business, about relationships and about concepts of community. The new album, "Goodness", is not about anguish, they say, not like its predecessor. It's more about acceptance following a dysfunctional relationship, and about a few other things, they say, speaking in an interview with Stereogum about the album with the controversial cover; the one that's blurred over on your streaming service of choice, but which otherwise features a group of naked people in the woods, evoking reflections about acceptance, consumerism and other constraints of living in society.
It's musically different as well, if not radically, for while both previous albums were rather waltz happy, the phrase post-punk comes to mind after a somewhat cryptic spoken word intro, with both "Goodness, Pt. 2" and "Piano Player" racing ahead on fast, unrelenting beats that hypnotise away your conception of length and time somewhat. The former, in particular, contrasts its infectious vocal melody sharply, with noticeably off-kilter stabs of chords that get the band's trademark feeling of emotional distress going again - an approach which is used again with some nuance and similar successful impact in "Settle The Scar" a bit later, both times making for tracks that figure as likely to build hype among guests at future Hotelier shows. This being said, the overall melodiousness of the album is still aligned mainly with the sentimental and nostalgic moods of emo.
The album is divided unevenly into three parts, split up by three tracks named with coordinates that each revisit a mysterious bit of poetry about 'seeing the moon and being seen by the moon', and especially the second of these feels like it draws you into The Hotelier's world of concern for the people nearest to you, with how the words are sung here by the uneven voices of a small congregation, sort of like a psalm or an old folk song. It's a clever little arrangement choice, following right after another one that already characterised another of the album's highlights, namely the mentioned "Piano Player", in which Holden cheekily sustain's the last syllable of the last word of the refrain: "The entire room awash with the sustaaaaaain"
This line in particular, though, feels indicative of a shift in Holden's lyrical style. It's less direct in metaphor, less carefully building up towards those moments from "Home.." that just floored you. Instead it circles the situations in the songs, painting the scenery with details that seem important, yet sort of step around the hearts of each matter. And as the album burns through the thirteen tracks it offers, it becomes increasingly clear that while it still casts The Hotelier as a band that puts an extraordinary level of thought into making music and content compliment each other, the songwriting here is more structured towards atmosphere and descriptive narrative, less towards seizing the listener with those surging moments of strong impact.
Songs like "Settle The Scar", "Soft Animal" and "End Of Reel" hint back towards what you feel is missing, but still only momentarily, while other cuts like "Two Deliverances" and "You In This Light" seem likely to keep their impact unresolved unless you make some more analytical listens with strong attention on the lyrics. And with that, "Goodness" isn't really that second perfect storm that you could have hoped for. Its impact is more sporadic, just as it feels like its popping into mind for an invitation for another listen, seems fated to be considerably less frequent. Its conundrum is that it fascinates you but it doesn't rock you to the core, and yet, somehow it feels exactly like the album the band should make: Because it continues The Hotelier's short tradition of reacting to experiences, musically and lyrically, without preconception, allowing itself to be deeply affected even on here, as it seeks acceptance. Career highmark or not then, "Goodness" at the very least solidifies that Holden and The Hotelier are continuing to attempt something rare; something crucial.
Download: Goodness, Pt. 2, Soft Animal, Piano Player, Settle The Scar
For The Fans Of: The Wonder Years, The Smith Street Band, (old) Death Cab For Cutie, (old) Jimmy Eat World
Release date 20.05.2016