Review: The Hotelier – Home, Like NoPlace Is There

Originally posted at Under the Gun Review.

I’ve said a lot of positive things about The Hotelier, both on this site and elsewhere. I’ve called them “one of punk’s best kept secrets“, I’ve recommended their music to countless friends, and I consider “An Ode To the Nite Ratz Club,” from their 2011 album, …It Never Goes Out, to be one of my favorite songs of all time. Needless to say, my expectations were set high for the group’s sophomore effort, but The Hotelier knocked them out of the park. I’ve been listening to music long enough to know that no amount of buildup or hype can prepare you for an album that truly affects you, that cuts to the core of your emotions and your worldview, that perfects and turns on its head a genre of music in which you’ve immersed yourself. Records like that don’t come along often – not even my favorites from the past couple years really fit that description – but I feel confident in saying that Home, Like Noplace Is There is one of them.

The lonely organ chord that opens “An Introduction To the Album” is the polar opposite of the triumphant count-off at the start of …It Never Goes Out, and the difference between the two speaks volumes about how The Hotelier have evolved over the past three years. What used to be a pop punk band with hints of a wider range of influences is now a full-fledged powerhouse that walks the line between 90s emo and the dark side of the Drive-Thru Records sound. The guitar work is subtle and intricate, particularly in the time signature-shifting “Discomfort Revisited,” and times heavier than an emo band has any business being (the back half of “Among the Wildflowers”), but no part draws undue attention to itself. In fact, the album flows so smoothly between its highs and lows that it feels effortless. Not once in the course of Home’s 36 minutes do I find myself questioning a compositional decision.

The same goes for the lyrics, which truly are the album’s selling point. Vocalist Christian Holden sounds older and world-wearier on Home than he ever has before. …It Never Goes Out was certainly not a happy record, but it was characterized by a certain optimism, youthful exuberance, and “we shall overcome” spirit, none of which make an appearance in these songs. Instead, much of Home is spent dealing with the consequences of being, by nature, the kind of person who doesn’t fit in. Holden addresses gender identity issues on the blistering “Life In Drag” (“You wore the binary like a badge of honor while I struggled dealing with the loss of yet another life in drag”) and, most powerfully, depression and suicide. In the final verse of “In Framing,” Holden sings, “With your nature reversed and our home as our cage, you caved and you asked, ‘Is this coming of age?’ As you climbed out the window, your face cold as stone, you lifted the towel. Your wrist showed the bone.” The vivid scene turns tragic on the album’s most striking and heart-wrenching track, “Your Deep Rest,” which finds the vocalist at the funeral of a friend who committed suicide. The song is an emotional experience even for a listener who hasn’t gone through what the narrator has, and that is the great strength of Holden’s songwriting. These aren’t lyrics you want to relate to, but you don’t need to relate to them to sense the humanity in every line he sings.

To be completely honest, I don’t have a single negative thing to say about Home, Like Noplace Is There. I hesitate to call a work of art perfect, but if any album is deserving of the title, it’s this one. That is more than just a reflection on the album itself; it’s also a statement about the impact I see this album having. If this feels like a landmark for a guy who has been deeply involved in music for ten years, I can only imagine what it will come to represent for people who are just discovering this scene. Regardless of where you fall on that continuum and where you are in your life, this record has the power to speak to you, so let it.

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