Described as “the bittersweet commingling of past and present,” Hospitality‘s self-titled full length debut seeks to encapsulate adventure, romance, and, by the sound of it, great success. In separating past and future, the present becomes an interstitial non-place, where nothing and everything become a possibility. That’s where Hospitality makes its home. Imbued with contentment and a precocious self-awareness, the narrative voice of Hospitality speaks from an infinite now, luxuriating in moments the less imaginative would just as soon punctuate in favor of stability and convention. In short, Hospitality embodies a youthful confidence that seeks no answers.
Set against the backdrop of New York City, where Hospitality formed in 2007, with a hypothetical side trip to Tokyo, the lyrics could be read as a map to New York cool, as on “Eighth Avenue”, on which singer Amber Papini traces the route to a rooftop tryst. With as many instrumental layers as there are sides to a story, the songs often become so dense that it would be a distraction if they weren’t so excellently arranged. It lends the whole endeavor a you-had-to-be-there quality. Singer Papini honed her vocal chops by imitating Richard Butler of Psychedelic Furs, and as a result, delivers her lyrics with the slightest British accent. Though she flirts with vocal incoherence at every turn, it serves the sometimes manic, sometimes confusing rehash of times gone by. Ultimately, she delivers her lyrics with such sweet self-assuredness that the listener will gladly sit through them as many times as necessary in order to hear her out. As of this review (and many listens), I’m still working it all out, but also still enjoying it.
Though Hospitality may borrow heavily from the Lit-Rock play books of Belle and Sebastian and Vampire Weekend, with whom Hospitality share a co-producer in Shane Stoneback, they leave the neurosis and quirk for which those two bands are sometimes known in the margins where they belong. Hospitality are book smart by way of the streets. Or maybe its the other way around. Equal measures of each is the point. On “Betty Wang”, for instance, Papini sings of a final lunchtime adventure with a departing friend, praising her friend for her brutal honesty and willingness to remain an outsider.
Clocking in at thirty-three minutes, Hospitality is more musically dense than most albums twice its length. Awash with the warmth of cascading keyboards, the punch of horns, the hum of synths, and of course Amber Papini’s very intelligent vocal offering — which is evocative of Debut-era Bjork in it’s unvarnished confidence– the cleanly layered arrangement on display suggests a species of introspection devoid of regret. To Papini’s great credit, she is unafraid to get out of the way as instrumental concerns are given precedence. It makes her vocals shine more brilliantly when they are allowed back to the forefront. Few listening experiences in recent memory rival the bright and triumphant moment of “Argonauts”, when Papini quiets herself to make room for the brassy gasp of horns. It’s a silence that crackles with the energy of what just happened and what’s to come. It’s a silence that I wish could last forever.
MP3: Hospitality “Betty Wang”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! Vinyl