Hospitality – Hospitality

written by: February 15, 2012
Hospitality - Hospitality Release Date: Jan. 31, 2012


At the start of 2012, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists proclaimed via Twitter: “Hospitality is, like, my new favorite band.” This serendipitous celebrity endorsement came hot on the heels of the Brooklyn trio signing with Merge Records, releasing a hipster-friendly music video starring Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, and opening for such indie darlings as Wild Flag and Eleanor Friedberger in late 2011. And now, with the January release of their self-titled debut causing quite the stir amongst industry insiders, Hospitality is poised to become the next underground-turned-mainstream musical sensation.

The band’s first LP with a major record label is an appealing blend of ’70s/’80s New Wave (Elvis Costello and the Psychedelic Furs are obvious influences) and minimalistic twee pop that also sounds refreshingly current (think Belle and Sebastian with a wide-eyed New Yorker’s sensibility). Lead vocalist/guitarist/pianist Amber Papini, drummer/flautist Nathan Michel, and singing bassist Brian Betancourt have chemistry and talent to spare—creating an ebullient record that is cute and likeable without being overly pretentious.

Almost all ten tracks have the potential to become catchy singles, with “Friends of Friends” emerging as the sure-fire hit of the bunch. With its infectious hook of guitar thumps and raucous saxophone blurts, this song perfectly captures the youthful exuberance that comes with moving to a new city and expecting an entirely new way of life. Other standouts include “Betty Wang” (an upbeat ditty about a depressing cubicle drone), “Eighth Avenue” (a richly cultivated melody with a spastic guitar kick), and “The Right Profession” (a sneering statement about how people are “hard to change”). The only weak spots on the album are “Julie” and “The Birthday”—a pair of languid, meandering folk ballads that are far too sleep-inducing to make lasting impressions. However, similar songs like “Liberal Arts” and “Sleepover” are saved by lyrics that speak directly to the post-graduate woes of their target audience: “So you found the lock/but not the key that college brings” and “Let’s pretend we’re married/Lock the door before you leave.”

Producer Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells) does an excellent job of mixing Amber Papini’s saccharine vocals with an intricately constructed playground of keyboards, synth, piano, and treated guitars. Although Papini’s sister Gia has since left the band, her voice still appears on the album—adding effervescence to the lyrical landscape that might have been missing otherwise. Still, Papini doesn’t need the backup harmonies to deliver a sing-song lilt of unexpected depth. At times she sounds like a baby doll version of Karen O, with a wobble of pent-up aggression tipping her deceptively childlike sweetness slightly off-kilter.

Nothing about this album is particularly exceptional or groundbreaking, but it does feel comfortably familiar—like an old sweater that is suddenly back in style. Papini, Michel, and Betancourt have yet to fully mature as artists, as they rarely stray from the themes of premature angst and rebellion that define their twenty-something generation. Still, with their sharp songwriting skills and adorably contagious musicality, these impressive newcomers have earned a more than hospitable embrace.

Hospitality – Hospitality tracklist:

  1. “Eighth Avenue”
  2. “Friends of Friends”
  3. “Betty Wang”
  4. “Julie”
  5. “The Right Profession”
  6. “Sleepover”
  7. “The Birthday”
  8. “Argonauts”
  9. “Liberal Arts”
  10. “All Day Today”