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Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang News music columnist.
The doldrums of January are an opportunity for a band to make a splash. The general lack of high profile releases leaves a gaping hole waiting to be filled by some hidden gem trying to burst onto the scene and with Trouble, Hospitality makes its case to be the critical darlings of 2014.
Its case is less than compelling. After the trio’s well-received 2012 self-titled debut, Trouble takes some of the pop-friendly tones off of Hospitality’s whip-smart brand of stripped-down rock. Working out of Brooklyn (who isn’t these days?), the band is well entrenched in dry East Coast, Ivy League rock.
The trio, led by singer Amber Papini, borrows the bang-for-your-buck minimalism of Spoon and the bare-bones rock of Wye Oak, even as Hospitality works to carve out a space of its own. That space, exemplified in the soft, chugging “Rockets and Jets” and the indifferent groove of “Going Out,” provides a glimpse of a band potentially poised to stay in the indie scene for the long-term.
From the false start opening of “Nightingale,” Papini lays out the album’s schizophrenic thesis statement: “If you go to sleep here, you’ll see silence and vamps,” she sings cryptically just before her guitar rips into a swampy Southern-fried riff that eventually gives way to a quietly sparse verse.
Papini’s voice might be a make or break proposition for many listeners. When the band maintains its comfortable, measured midtempo, she sounds like she’s trying to channel Camera Obscura’s incomparable Tracyanne Campbell, but when Hospitality turns the volume up, Papini drops the twee silkiness and tries to power her band through. From a band with more (any) passion, this might be an effective technique, but Hospitality’s cool distance from its own music doesn’t allow for that possibility. To make such matters of authenticity worse, Papini (a New Yorker by way of Kansas City, of all places) insists on singing in an unrelenting British accent.
On Trouble, Hospitality has inexplicably decided to eschew the playful charm of New York that made its previous record such a delight. There’s not even a hint of the lively spirit of “Betty Wang” or “The Right Profession.” Instead, Trouble is a downer of an album whose characters, such as the unrequited lover of “Inauguration” or the pining narrator of single “I Miss Your Bones,” are more whiny than sympathetic.
Fortunately, the tones that Papini’s lyrics seem unable to convey are better carried by her inspired guitar. It’s occasionally frustrating to hear her toss off some despondent throwaway line, only to lead into a jangly guitar line that embodies the same sentiment perfectly. I’m a sucker for a band with a musically charismatic bass, and Brian Betancourt’s work is a delight, as are the admirably restrained drums of Nathan Michel.
The self-serious wistfulness sustained throughout the majority of Trouble finds its lone success on “Last Words.” “These brackish ways surround me and there is no exit,” sings Papini over a wavy synth line that sounds more like Chromatics than a proper rock band.
Ultimately, Trouble feels like less of a proper evolution for Hospitality than an overcorrection from the breezy pop-rock of its debut. For now, we’ll have to wait for the album that hits the sweet spot.