By Mike Shanley
Two years ago, Hospitality released a solid self-titled debut full of straightforward pop songs. What made it more than a batch of bright hooks came in vocalist/guitarist Amber Papini’s lyrical outlook and a series of well-placed overdubs that added a unique sonic texture to the three-piece lineup. (On tour, drummer Nathan Michel moved to guitar to recreate his studio additions). As a followup, Trouble finds the band moving away from the breezy strums towards territory that gets a little more ambiguous, both musically and lyrically. That’s still a good thing.
While their first record ushered you in with an engaging Belle and Sebastian-style riff, “Nightingale” kicks off with what sounds like a few song ideas thrown together, complete with pregnant pauses between sections. Papini begins with a sinister lullaby, “If you go to sleep, dear/ you’ll see ghosts in your bed/…If you go to sleep here/ you’ll see sirens and vamps.” What follows sounds the dreams experienced during that sleep, in fragmented but intriguing verses, delivered by Papini’s sharp voice.
The trio retains the penchant for catchy grooves, but they come in non-linear form, or in completely different shapes. “I Miss Your Bones” begins with a pop power riff played in unison by the band. But they abandon it, and the song’s plot of lost love, halfway through. We’re left to hear them vamp for a while, building up the tension. “Going Out” has a slinky feel to it, with a cold undercurrent. The melancholia that was felt on the previous album has morphed into cynicism.
Without trying to sound retro or ironic, elements of ‘80s post-punk influences factor into some of Trouble. The rich guitar leads in “Rockets and Jets” recall John McGeoch’s chorused-out work with Siouxsie & the Banshees. On a few songs bassist Brian Betancourt trades the strings for a synthesizer, making the band sound like that rare brand of early ‘80s new wave that used keyboards and guitars to effectively create tension. “Last Words” offers the best example, and serves as something of a climax of the album. For six minutes, the band (mostly Michel, actually) layers piano, guitar, trumpet and more synths over a steady one-note bassline. Bathed in echo, Papini spins a tale of being marooned, calmly pleading, “Take me back to/ solid land.” If the Cocteau Twins were more of a rock band, they might sound like this.
From there, things gradually calm down. “Sunship” strolls gently with flute, trumpet and cello adding to the pastoral mood. “Call Me After” closes the album with just Papini and her acoustic guitar. The lyrics, which could be a missing puzzle piece to the earlier “It’s Not Serious,” reveals a feeling of optimism that hasn’t been heard much through the rest of the album.
The Hospitality of yore does appear on some of the tracks, but it’s clear the group has pushed itself towards newer territories which, while a little enigmatic at first, suit them perfectly.
DOWNLOAD: “Last Words,” “Rockets and Jets.”