As a host of an emo radio show, I am uniquely interested in the history of emo music. I could tell you that bands like Rites of Spring pioneered the genre in the 80s, that bands like Jimmy Eat World and Sunny Day Real Estate helped to grow it in the late 90s. I could even tell you that My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday brought it squarely into the mainstream in the mid-2000s. Undoubtedly, then, I have heard of the growing term “emo revival” to describe this fourth distinct era of emo music, and find it just as ridiculous as other critics have. Emo hasn’t gone anywhere since the 1980s (or the mid-2000s for that matter), it has just shifted form and sound over time, as every other genre has.
A lot of people have been nominating The World is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid To Die as the poster child band for this new era of emo music, but as of February 25, 2014, I have officially nominated a different candidate. I submit that The Hotelier should be the torchbearer for this fourth era of emo music.
Perhaps the band wouldn’t appreciate that title, however. The Hotelier seem content with distancing themselves from their contemporaries in pretty much every conceivable way. Instead of adding a 30-second instrumental afterthought to the beginning of the album, they start off their sophomore record Home, Like Noplace is There with the cheekily titled “An Introduction to the Album,” a near-five minute sweeping ballad which comes to a stunning climax. “And the pills you gave didn’t do anything, I just slept for years on end. Fuck!” screams vocalist Christian Holden as the band kicks in fully for the first time. It’s a jarring and unexpected way to kick off the album- fitting considering the album as a whole is unsettling during initial listens.
The album’s second track continues this trend of Home, Like Noplace is There not being what you’d expect. “The Scope Of All This Rebuilding,” is about as pop-punk a track as you’re going to find here, with its layered harmonies and gang vocal chanted chorus of “You cut our ropes, left the umbilical.” Drummer Sam Fredrick turns in a stellar performance hear, as he punctuates the bridge with a stellar drum beat and then drives the song to its finish line in a mass of cymbals.
“In Framing”-a song that is worlds better than the generic drum beat and alt-strummed guitar riff its intro would have you believe- leads directly into what is undoubtedly the standout track on the album, and perhaps the standout track of 2014 thus far, the cleverly titled “Your Deep Rest” (say it out loud and you’ll know exactly what the song is about). While The Hotelier are certainly not the first vaguely emo band to take on the pain left behind in the wake of a loved one’s self-harm, but they are the first band to really do it well in a long time. The song tells the story of a close friend who suffered from depression before their death, as Holden sings, “You said you’re trapped in your body, and getting deeper every day. They diagnosed you born that way. They say in runs in your family.” Though the sentiment these words express is so simple, it radiates in a way that feels grandiose in scope.
As the climax of the song occurs, the listener is pulling for Holden to reach a catharsis. Instead of getting a resolution to the pain and hurt that Holden expresses seeing his friend going through, however, we are treated with more disillusionment as the song comes to a climax: “I called in sick from your funeral, tradition of closure nearly felt impossible.” Though Holden’s friend has moved on (“I watched your spirit set you free”), Holden himself isn’t able to let go completely and grieve, leaving him incomplete. This technique, cutting off the narrative without giving the narrator finality, is reminiscent of “King Park” from La Dispute. “Your Deep Rest” is just as much a memorably gut-wrenching listen as that track.
While a lot of albums that start off that strong on their front halves often fall flat on the B-side, Home, Like Noplace is There is not one of them. “Life in Drag” is a riotous, nearly fully-screamed, fireball which will call to mind “Ashes, Ashes” from Hidden In Plain View’s seminal album Life In Dreaming (and features a subject matter that Against Me! fans will probably recognize). “Housebroken” slows down the tempo in exchange for an extended metaphor relating a dog who has become accustomed to domesticated life to humans who are content with failure and mediocrity. Holden will not stand for such a thing in himself, snarling, “Try to muzzle me up, I’ll lash out, I’ll bite back.”
While the above songs are both great, it is the album closer “Dendron” that shines on the back half of the album. Holden’s vocals remain just barely restrained enough through the songs first half to allow for the male and female vocals that trade off with him in the chorus to shine (Side Note: If anyone could tell me who sang those vocals, I would greatly appreciate it). At the midpoint of the song, there is a break in the instrumentation as the time signature switches. It is here that Holden’s ability to resonate emotionally through his vocals becomes clear. “I felt the noose tighten up on your collar bone. I felt the gun in the small of your back,” he yelps as the album reaches its climactic moment, before closing with one final cathartic crashing drum beat. The guitar riff from “An Introduction to the Album” is plucked again on an acoustic guitar. The understated nature of this full-circle moment displays just how great The Hotelier are at songwriting.
The word “relatable” gets overused too much in the scene. Sure a lot of bands have written breakup songs that can dredge up old feeling and unresolved tensions, or transport you back in time to remember that big regret in your life. But The Hotelier transcend that here. The lyrics on Home, Like Noplace is There are written in a way that it at once literary, yet instantly identifiable. The Hotelier has found a way to explicate and illustrate a moment, a memory, as if you were experiencing it yourself firsthand in the moments you listen to the album. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt since listening to On The Impossible Past by The Menzingers for the first time.
Perhaps, out of all the comparisons I make in this review, that On The Impossible Past comparison is the most fitting way to describe my feelings on Home, Like No Place is There. Looking back on my review of that album, I see one pertinent quote: “But vocalists’ Tom May and Greg Barnett seem to transcend this statement; they have an innate ability to tap into human emotion and tell stories that don’t fall flat, narratives that feel real.”
Two years later, that description could just as easily describe The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace Is There. This band, despite being just two full-length albums into their career, have achieved something that many bands strive for their entire careers to reach, but never do- they have crafted an instant classic album.