“Trouble” – Hospitality

4 stars (out of 5)

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TroubleHospitality are a three-piece, female-led band from Brooklyn and “Trouble” is their second album. This is indie, guitar pop with new wave synths and the occasional dusting of strings or an unexpected lonely and sad piano solo. The group make music that although decidedly retro, see Television and Belle and Sebastian for obvious comparisons, still sounds modern if somewhat unfashionable. If all of these ingredients sound appealing then you might just love “Trouble”, an album which has a mood and turn of phrase that suggests disappointments and bright, city afternoons but spent in slightly grubby vintage dresses accompanied only by overflowing ashtrays and a telephone.

Nightingale” opens the album in a strident and assertive manner before positioning an airy and dreamlike slow drum and hushed percussion break that would usually appear as a middle eight and not within a track’s first minute. It’s a lovely affecting trick, gently pulling the rug out from under your feet that is repeated several times in different forms.  The 10 songs here are all artfully but quietly arranged which in turn encourage repeated listens just to revisit the thrill of the surprise. Much of this is also down to lead vocalist Amber Papini’s ability to merge other-worldliness and dressed-down normality.  She inhabits a world that is part Brit-pop sarcasm and smirk (Elastica, Sleeper and later entrants, The Long Blondes) occasionally mixed with the savage sheen of early Blondie.

It’s Not Serious” sees Papini at the Neko end of haughty but she’s surrounded by a swaying and strummed soundtrack and with a chorus that however languid, is built to stick. “Inauguration” is krautrock that manages to pack so much into two minutes and nine seconds with such elegance and humour that is easy to dismiss the level of skill required to pull this off. The song is addressed to an individual called Valentino, a small thing but even the choice of name adds to the visual associations created whilst listening. One of the two ballads that close the album, “Sunship” is a glorious ode to a changed season which has a trumpet solo that the song can barely contain. Full of optimism with a massive light heart but devoid of any cheap sentimentality:

‘Out of the coats
And out of our hats
Out of the wool flying socks that
Bruised out cheeky bodies
Fingers dying our beat over the rock-shed sand
Unpack your bags
Tie up your swimming cap
And go with the creatures ’

Mood and minor key music of this shade, the type that doesn’t announce itself loudly as soon as the first hook has been established, is rarely on the radar these days. Refusing to commit to either full on guitars or machines, Hospitality fall somewhere in the middle and for them this setting, especially following on from their far less daring 2012 debut album, appears to be the perfect one. Amber Papini is a charismatic front woman who maybe isn’t as assertive and as centrally placed vocally as some of her contemporaries; she can, for example, struggle to recapture the essence of some of these songs live, but none the less she bristles with the personality that this material requires.  As a band, the trio have proved that they are capable of creating music that starts small and, through the use of magical trap doors and beguiling long, twisting corridors, becomes much bigger the more it is experienced. An uncommon album, as beautiful in its low key way as it is strange – “Trouble” comes highly recommended.