Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let's Actually Listen To Albums - The Hotelier "Home Like Noplace Is There"

Welcome back to "Let's actually listen to albums!" This time, I'm checking out the Hotelier (formerly the Hotel Year) and their new album "Home, Like Noplace, Is There." I'd heard this band mentioned but have never listened to their previous stuff.

[bandcamp] - The Hotelier's bandcamp

The record opens with "An Introduction To The Album" (an Is A Real Boy reference?) which is a sparkly, ambient track with an almost hymnal vocal melody. The track loops and looms for a few minutes before blowing up with guitars and harsher, yelled vocals. Second track "The Scope Of All This Rebuilding" rips open with a monster hook, quickly rolling into a back-and-forth vocal session that reminds me of the best Taking Back Sunday tracks but the song doesn't stay stuck on any of those things, jumping between ideas as fast my my brain can grab onto them. I like that a lot. The next song, In Framing, sounds like a straight-up alty-punk song, Against Me or Gaslight Anthem, or something of that nature. It's definitely solid but doesn't grab me as much as the previous tracks since it sounds a bit more conventional to my ear. Lyrics are another story, seems to be a harrowing story of a friend's suicide, rolling into the next song. "Your Deep Rest" is a raw confessional track, lyrics about guilt over a friend's death over a track which forms one shape for the first half of the song, wrenching itself sideways as the singer recalls the friend's words to him. "Among The WIldflowers" seems to bring an end to that storyline, starting somber and building to a breaking point with the lyrics "will you fall on your blade just to hear when I'm saying I cant?" The song then turns into a post-hardcore excoriation, a stacatto pounding riff driving behind the screamed vocals until the track falls away, noise wavering behind a young voice answering questions about bullying with heartbreaking sincerity and innocence. Life in Drag basically gives you a heart-attack right after that, The song is vicious in its tearing down of another, but it's hard for me to figure out the story here, the lyrics are less specific than on the previous songs... fits the guardedness of the song's protagonist, though. Anyway, it's probably the most intense (musically) song on this record so far. Then "Housebroken" comes in like another road-worn punk song, using metaphor of how a dog is treated to take aim at a few different social and political targets. "Discomfort Revisited" returns to a more traditionally emo palette to tell the tale of someone who admitted themselves to a mental facility. Might be my favorite song on the record, actually, because that chorus is so powerful both musically and narratively. Final song "Dendron" pulls a lot of vocal trade-off tricks and structural/stylistic shifts, starting off as a straightforward punk song, shedding its skin slowly and leaving just a heavily reverbed twinkle as the song builds back up, guitars pounding everything into submission until we're left with a single voice and a single guitar... this builds again, neatly summing up every story that had been told throughout the record until it all falls a part, a gentle acoustic guitar echoing the first track... maybe implying there's something cyclical to all of this tragedy.

So, I need to listen to this record more times with the lyrics in front of me to really make sure I grasp what's going on in each track. Each song has its own story here, and the sum of all of them seems to build up in that final track, but there were a few parts that I didn't quite get just from this first listen. I will say this, though: Hovering under all the tragedy on the record there's a sense of hope, beaten down and bloodied, but dragging itself along. It's something a lot of records strive for but this one evokes that more strongly than anything I have listened to in a while. Thanks to everyone who told me I needed to hear this record, you were very very right.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Let's Actually Listen To Albums - Totally Slow Self-Titled

Here's a novel idea: instead of just endlessly accumulating mp3s and tossing them into the iTunes/Spotify shuffle machine, I'm gonna specifically listen to a record a day, all the way through, and record what I think of it here. Basically, just go track-by-track and write what I think of what I'm hearing as I hear it, and then kinda give a summary of it after that. Maybe this will count as a review? Who knows. Anyway, the first record I'm doing is Totally Slow's debut LP, out through Self Aware Records in Charlotte NC, which I bought on impulse today at the suggestion of the clerk at Sorry State records in downtown raleigh (really cool new record store by the way, focused mostly on punk/hardcore but a pretty good selection of older stuff too, so check it out). Here's the links:
[bandcamp] - band's bandcamp
[bandcamp] - this record on bandcamp

When I lived in Charlotte I basically thought there wasn't much of a music scene outside of the billion tough guy hardcore and death metal bands with unreadable logos. I wish I'd heard Totally Slow live before I moved out of there. Album opener "Wasted Days" is fast-paced, driving pop-punk, not the newer emo or hardcore tinged stuff but classic melodic punk. There's a fun noise break in the middle of the song, too, which I thought was pretty cool. Acid Rain drops the tempo a bit but it's the catchiest song I've heard in a while. That hook is enormous. The next song, Worst Case, has a pseudo-surf vibe, with the seasick whammy bar nonsense and the guitar solo. It's peppy, but also really bleak. Highest Hill has an emo vibe to it which made me at first kind of weary of it, it sounded less original than the stuff before it. It grew on me though, as the intensely bizarre high-pitched "yeah!" bouncing in the middle of the song jarred it out of complacency. This Town is a pretty awesome inversion of the punk and pop-punk "gotta get out of this town" vibe, and for a punk song it's awfully domestic. Phone was alright but it didn't do much for me... on the other hand, Brain Is On Fire opened in a cool way and had some really cool indie rock riffing throughout with a slightly dissonant noisy vibe to it. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was listening to a pop-punk cover of Sonic Youth with this song. I liked that a lot. No Flowers opens up with a ton of energy, kicking into a strangled "whoa-oh" bridge that must just cause riots at shows. Last track, Everything All The Way Up seems to have a bit of that emo influence too, with some start-stop riffs and wiry guitar leads trading with power chords back and forth. It's got a real solid hook to it too, and even though it's only 2:33 (second longest song on the album) it feels pretty big, definitely en effective closer.

So basically, whenever someone tells me about a new pop-punk band, this is what I imagine they will sound like, and they almost never do. This album is very very solid, more edge to it than somewhat similar newer indie-pop-punk stuff which I definitely appreciate. I'm gonna spam all my friends' walls with links to this bandcamp now, so I guess we'll call this first round a success.