‘Goodness’ isn’t just great; it’s also impossibly brave.
Label: Tiny Engines
Released: 6th May 2016
Opening with a spoken word piece, it’s clear from the very start that The Hotelier are up to something a bit different on ‘Goodness’, and given the praise heaped upon the band when they released 2013’s ‘Home, Like Noplace Is There’, that’s something of a surprise. That’s not to say that they should’ve been expected to rest on their laurels and simply do a ‘part two’ of that record, but the steps the band take from that opening, right through to the last are bold ones – especially given that this is the first time they’ve put out an album to an expectant audience.
The biggest change from ‘HLNPIT’ is the lack of immediacy. Where that record was a tsunami of intensity and emotion with softer moments serving only to double the impact of the harsher ones, ‘Goodness’ is more akin to the flow of a river. It’s a much more constant, graceful record that you can drift along with .
Where the last record didn’t stop pummelling you either with heavy, screamed sections or the sheer weight of the subject matter, the challenge of ‘Goodness’ and its total lack of that heaviness (there isn’t a screamed vocal on the entire record) then, is that it has to find new ways to be brilliant. And in its sheer scope and mindfulness, it does.
Clearly buoyed by their success, even if not indulging themselves in it to any condemnable level of pretentiousness, The Hotelier have written this record with a newfound freedom. Where there was such unbridled emotion displayed on ‘HLNPIT’, ‘Goodness’ feels so much more comfortable in its own skin. Vocalist Christian Holden’s lyrics, for example, take a conceptual and explorative turn this time around as they work around the themes of love and discovery – a stark contrast, it’s worth noting, to the previous album’s fixation on rage and loss. Whether singing of an elderly woman’s “88 remembered loves” on ‘Piano Player’ or the abstract, fragmented imagery of ‘Opening Mail For My Grandmother’, Holden relays every line with a knowing ‘there’s more to this’ nod.
Instrumentally there’s a flexing of creative muscle, too. In a band, the notes you don’t play are every bit as vital as those you do and on every single track of ‘Goodness’, there’s a tremendous level of restraint shown that serves to distil each track down to its most honest form. The lack of anything being played is almost jarring to start with – you end up halfway into second track, ‘Goodness Pt. 2’ before you ever hear vocals, drums, bass and guitars being played in unison – but it doesn’t take long to notice that the purposefulness of this approach actually adds more to their sound than it takes away.
Thanks to those two things, the show-don’t-tell lyricism and the selectiveness of the playing, working in accordance with each other, The Hotelier have delivered a truly rich, meticulously considered record. One to be pored over and endlessly discussed with friends. It’s still tuneful, mind – the run of ‘Soft Animal’, ‘Sun’ and ‘You In This Light’ make for a particularly catchy section of the record – it’s just got so much more depth to it than that.
Depth is a vitally important to this album, in fact. Take the co-ordinates that the album’s interludes are named after, for example: If you look those up, you’ll find that they’re spots in New England, where the band hail from. Holden revealed the significance of those places in an interview, but simply naming those tracks that and inviting the listener to go deeper into the record, finding out for themselves that those co-ordinates would almost certainly be of importance to the band, the overall experience of the album is made more rewarding.
‘Goodness’ isn’t just great; it’s also impossibly brave. From the artwork that’s been discussed ad infinitum, to the sonic changes, the risks taken on this record were sizable. Nothing would’ve been easier for The Hotelier than to come back, force some screams, tell some sad stories and accept their position as the ‘emotional rollercoaster’ band, running with the baton previously held by Defeater and La Dispute a few years back when they were the vogue bands to name a Tumblr account after. Instead they’ve proven that there’s far more to their game, delivering an album that doesn’t just expand on the identity they’d previously built, but one that elevates them to a whole new plane entirely. Ryan De Freitas