The Hotelier’s new album puts a beautifully fractured voice to feeling broken.
It seems like everyone I know has been dying recently.
I know that’s not the best way to open up a music review, but it’s a thought that’s been running through my head for months—during runs, at bars, while I’m waiting for the bus—like a stray chorus that won’t get unstuck. It’s been a rough winter. Some have taken their own lives, some have had it taken from them, and all I can do is decide how numb I want to go when I hear that another person is in the hospital or worse.
Let me start over: I haven’t felt a particularly strong bond with emo music in a while. I came up in the Drive Thru Records heyday of the “scene” as a teenager, which is why nasally dudes writing about their broken hearts struck a (power) chord with me and why I can sing you full albums worth of New Found Glory and Allister songs all these years later. At the time, those songs spoke to me. They put a voice to the longings in my skin, whether that was to keep the radio playing all night long or apologize for bleeding on your shirt.
But while there’s nothing wrong with overly emotional pop punk, in the last few years I’ve moved away from the scene. It seemed a little same-y, like the old saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” applied directly to a whole genre of music. I lacked interest, preferring a little more nuance to over-emoted chest-beating. I gave up on its ability to move me from a place in my heart that wasn’t centered on nostalgia.
This is all to say that when a band called The Hotelier started garnering blog interest for their sophomore album, Home, Like Noplace Is There, I was resigned to the idea that it would be one more band that spoke to somebody else.
Simply enough: I was wrong. There’s a section I keep coming back to, when the guitars kick in on the second track, “The Scope Of All This Rebuilding”. After an introduction that build a scene piece by piece, the guitars blow it all away. It’s the equivalent of someone grabbing the video camera that you’re looking through and shaking it as hard as they can, until the music is pummeling you the same way that the world does sometimes.
This happens, song after song about loss and confusion and fear and fracture. It rises and falls like the dazed noise after a traffic collision, when you can’t quite make sense of gravity and the very air rings. And then something cuts through the buzz—a guitar line, or a crash cymbal, or most likely singer Christian Holden’s stunningly broken voice singing a lyric that hits you right in the gut:
“I called in sick from your funeral.
The sight of your body made me uncomfortable.
I couldn’t recognize your shell.”
There are certain moments in my life that are inextricably tied to music, moments that are so completely intertwined with a certain song or melody or lyric that I’ll never be able to completely separate them again. And any album, any song that can do that will always be a part of me. The circumstances aren’t important to anyone else—it’s the fusion of life with art, creating an experience that you know is entirely yours.
This album won’t change anybody’s mind who already has an opinion about whiny voices and fuzzy guitar riffs. Maybe they’re not in a place for The Hotelier’s voice to resonate, and maybe they’re better off for it. But the handful of people who Home, Like Noplace Is There does speak to will feel like it was written just for them, a handbook for getting through days that seem lined up against them.
It’s in the way the start/stop dynamics of “Discomfort Revisited” yank your body around. The way “In Framing” can turn the words “when you felt alone” into a rallying cry. The way the ascending riff in “Among The Wildflowers” wells up in your chest and you just want to hold it, hold it, hold it…
It’s why I fell in love with this music in the first place.