After the raw pain ‘Home, Like NoPlace is There’, The Hotelier are a band in need of healing. The group’s breakthrough album was a crushing listen, one that took familiar ideas from the emo playbook, sharpened the edges and made the emotions just as urgent as any felt on the genre’s classic records. It was an album that felt like it needed to be made, not just for the quality of the music, but for the stability of its performers. It spoke of suicide, depression and identity with such intensity that it was impossible not to feel the weight behind every drum blast and strained vocal. Admittedly, some of the lyrics were overworked, but that didn’t dull the emotions – honesty bled out of the band’s jittering melodies and Christian Holden’s panicked performances.
The band’s follow up is a move towards that healing, and an anxious search for hope. In that regard, it’s the perfect companion piece. The songs here retain the vulnerably that was fused so deeply into ‘Home,…’ but this time, it manifests itself through a need to push past apathy. Songs like ‘Goodness Pt.2’ and the ‘Piano Player’ are downright nourishing in their energy, the band’s melodic guitars and gasping drum blasts pushing relentlessly in every building moment.
Largely, the band play close to their strengths – Holden’s voice is still thin and bleating, and the band’s writing sticks to a balancing of nervous hooks, warm melodies, and ascending song structures. But there’s a newfound subtlety in these songs; Holden isn’t afraid to hold back from their usual urgency to benefit the record’s pacing. On ‘Opening Mail for My Grandmother’, the band settle into a two note riff, slowing the energy as Holden’s delicate vocal enters. Fans of the band would expect a heavenly crescendo to follow; backing vocals appear for a second before being cheekily cut off through editing, letting the silence speak for itself. The Hotelier flaunt their growth by letting the melody do the work. The payoff is pensive and absorbing.
Like many albums dealing with such tangible depression (Bright Eyes; American Football, Brand New) The Hotelier look to nature and to the past for an answer. Acoustic whisperings of the lullaby ‘I See the Moon’ break the album up with moments of calm, evoking a campfire vigil and all of the innocence that comes with it. What might smell of pretension for some actually adds a great deal to the thematics and cohesion of the album.
The band’s instrumentals have noticeably improved too. The two guitars are in a constant state of conversation, the sharp interplay thickening the mix and allowing new textures to be unearthed through the added complexity. While a raw recording heightened the emotional stakes on the last album, the clarity and detail added by the production allows the band to work with more varied depths of emotion. Some other experiments don’t pay off, such as the grating piano ballad ‘Fear of Good’, or the meandering latter half of ‘Sun’, which can’t reach the climax it teases.
The Hotelier aren’t rebuilding indie rock with ‘Goodness’, but they are rebuilding themselves in a powerful way. Still, the album ultimately feels like it’s moving towards something monumental that its ending can’t deliver on. While the last few tracks don’t quite reach the expected heights, there’s no reason The Hotelier won’t do just that in the future.