The Hotelier - Home, Like No Noplace There Is (The Engines - 2014)
One of the most contentious topics of my youth was emo music, it’s died down a little bit now as the subculture is nowhere near as visible or as segregated as it once was, but unease around it still exists. Some of my closest friends in high school identified with emo and I always had conflicting feelings about it, I could never really understand why there were publicly accepted bands that I loved that were emo, but were so “good” nobody would admit it so we could all listen to “Such Great Heights.” I found most of it too sickly sweet to listen to regularly but I liked the fact that those kids with identified with a subculture that was truly theirs.
The Hotelier’s brilliant Home, Like Noplace there is is a devastating emo record. It’s a little more mature than the stuff I was talking about before, but people still kill themselves, people skip funerals, people desperately try to rebuild their shattered lives in a public sphere. Over its relatively brief runtime it asserts its desperation like no other record this year through euphoric melodic highs and breathless screams. I remember once someone pointed out to me that The Arcade Fire’s much celebrated, (not to mention hyper cool at the time) breakout Funeral was inherently not that much different to the emo music our generation was so Berlin walled on, Home reminded me of this comment only for its ability to retroactively capture the sheer desperation of youth in a mature domain, with musical ability and maturity that only comes with age.
One of the main gripes with Emo was that the melodic structures are inherently obvious and that is the case in many ways here, the chord progressions are the ones you find yourself roaming to when you have a guitar, an afternoon and no goals, but are the indie rock signatures that yes, are slightly less obviously progressive any different now they’ve been played for 25 years? Take any indie rock song say… Frankie Roses “Nightswim” - I used this example cos it’s a great song - were those guitar lines in any way hidden or unique? The guitar on Home is astonishingly obvious but also very powerful and expertly played, take the walls of melody that make up “Life In Drag” the records most desperate and aggressive track, The guitars shroud that in beauty in a way that I’ve only really heard one band do.
Then there’s the incredible centerpiece and album highlight “Among the Wildflowers” that cements just how skilled these guys are as musicians. The thing starts off as a straight forward anthemic pop-punk track with a chorus line as predictable as “Cut the Line.” It’s still highly enjoyable and easy to loose yourself in this form, before the beat doubles back on itself, the guitars are stripped to a choppier array and then drop away althogether as if your headphones broke for a second. Then they return in devastating full colour, the vocals shift from reflective emo dude, to powerful hardcore dude. The thing ends with the type of Godspeed esq interlude that Deafheaven just missed perfecting last years definitive Sunbather with, a small kid trying to explain how he’s going to stop a bully and it sounds cliche on paper, but in the context of what comes before it’s nothing less than strangely moving.
Like a lot of my favourite records this year the vocals here will probably be the decisive element, Christian Holden doesn’t have the ability to hit all the notes he goes for but he goes for them anyway and somehow gets away with it. The, sickly sweetness of them does sometimes wear at even the most patient of new participants, on “Housebroken” he sounds a little too preppy for his own good, but even that track is saved by the immaculate guitars that work way harder than they need to to. At his best like on “Life in Drag” he seems less conscious about singing well and more about making a point - it feels more natural even though on that track he’s pushing his voice to human extremes.
If a record has a track called “intro” and many do, you’d often expect a minute ambient interlude or a gentle ease into what could be a record that aims deep, instead here “An introduction to the Album” starts and finishes the statement that Home aims and succeeds in making, as Holden’s band mates join him in “oh oh oh” backing vocals, everything seems to click into place and this record denounces all genres even though it is particularly beholden to one, those backing vocals feel like a much celebrated track (excuse the Pun) Japandroids “The House that heaven Built” a track that broke down genre barriers and further let pop punk into indie rocks once closed domain in an overtly happy way. Now that indie rock has been mainstreamed and pitchfork gives Beyonce 8.8’s and bands like The Arcade Fire are stadium selling acts, just like in the early 90’s people are finding comfort that records like this on independent labels. This stuff is made for people who want to immerse themselves in music that was made by people who feel real people things just like them and it’s wonderful they still exist with this level of professionalism. Take Julia Brown, take Teen Suicide, take Fucked Up, and in 2014 over all else take a Hotel Year.