Music Reviews

Hospitality Trouble

(Merge / Fire) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

The myth of change is that it can be achieved through a series of steps, as if each calculated decision will support your growth. It sure does apply to budding acts still trying to discover their sound, but in the case of Brooklyn trio Hospitality, the all-around perception was that they were too naive to know better. Or at least that’s what we make of album debuts that are borderline saccharine, pleasant bursts of sweet-toothed indie pop with a cola-like aftertaste. What many failed to acknowledge was how effortlessly they achieved a post-collegiate manifesto with a shrewd wit that even a show like Girls is still trying to figure out, and the all-around jauntiness accurately highlighted the excitement of what life may bring. It sounded definitive in a way that college radio sounded definitive in the eighties - unabashedly hooky in execution, every predictable note earned by hitting those tuneful pleasure points.

It’s fitting that Hospitality named their latest Trouble, as it runs the risk of alienating those who thought they’d found the Second Coming of the Concretes. One instantly notable difference about their new guise, if it can even be described as such, is how it resolutely abandons even the tiniest morsel of pastel taffy. It kicks off the proceedings with Nightingale, sporting the kind of muscular riff the disaffected scholar in their debut would’ve scoffed at for sounding too much like Dazed and Confused, letting loose the improvisational swing of Mitch Mitchell alongside Amber Papini’s feathery vocals, now soaked in a muck of reverb. And is that an extended outro jam I hear? Surely they’re parting from the twangy accents that gave Hospitality its good-natured charm. 

Each and every detail in their debut was performed with letter-prefect precision, whereas the newfound strategy devised is one of prolongation and amplification. I Miss Your Bones doesn’t just go for the hook, line and sinker, it instead concocts a devilish scheme - what starts as skeletal proto punk song turns into psychedelic display of slack chord progressions with an unvarying rhythmic pulse. They’re proving to be more technically adept from a songwriting standpoint, and the sparseness leaves them more room to maneuver uncharted terrain, but it also exposes their flaws more prominently. There’s also a lack of restraint in how they juggle disparate stylistic approaches - vintage sounding synthesizes abound in the new wave informed Rockets and Jets, which, oddly enough, finds a middle ground between the silver-lacquered pop of Missing Persons and their days as players for Frank Zappa

The latter half of Trouble begins by taking a more low-key, natural approach, and is a more representative evolution of their musical growth. The sun-basked warmth of Sullivan lolls with ease with some fluid, jazzy guitar work, drifting in a calm state as Papini delivers a fey drawl akin to Kim Deal. It has just the right touch to transition it seamlessly with It’s Not Serious, settling for an intimate glow of innocence that takes us back to their merry ways even if the song’s sentiment remains ambiguous. Except that they’re not done adding another confounding shift in tone, and as the esoteric earnestness of Last Words attests, the aim is to sculpt a driving kraut-esque disco with celestial overlays a la Tango in the Night, which does amuse until she opts to deliver an obtuse, proggy guitar freak out that careens without purpose; at least David Gilmour should be proud of this one. They find a way to rock gently in baby boomer fashion without having to add any fuel additives. 

A souped-up version of their own making, Hospitality want to demonstrate their serious chops at the expense of diminishing their once-brilliant lyrical wit and shimmering melodic allure. It’s understandable to assume that the band were at a different creative stage when their debut came out, considering some of those songs had moved past their minds even before they signed to Merge. But they sure had the knack to look through the lens of their younger selves, which makes one think whether keeping it sweet and snappy would’ve suited them better. Regardless of their intent to reach out of their limit, there are bursts of inventiveness in Trouble that make the risk taking worthwhile.