Hotel, Hotel – Under Sea, Over Storm EP

Hotel, Hotel
Under Sea, Over Storm EP

As much as I adore complex, frantic music, I also have a soft spot for the subtle genres, like atmospheric post rock. I appreciate when a band can create great tension and suspense by slowly building up from silence to a grandiose conclusion. Perhaps the best example is the group Godspeed You Black Emperor from Montreal. They made brilliant music that sounded so simple to emulate effectively. Unfortunately, Texas based band Hotel, Hotel haven’t done that. While they clearly love bands like GSYBE and want to be a successor, on their EP Under Sea, Over Storm they are missing some crucial elements.

Hotel, Hotel began as two violins, two guitars and a drummer. The group have been called a “…large ensemble producing atmospheric fare heavy on the violins, wavering between pastoral and apocalyptic…” In the case of Under Sea, Over Storm (which was recorded live at a place called J&J’s in Denton, Texas), I will grant them that their music if very spacey and moody, and it does try to convey an ominous setting. However, it also results in nothing more than a 37 minute noise fest lacking any substance or point.

One reason this EP is so noisy is because it was recorded live, and without the greatest equipment, so the instruments don’t sound as separate and individual as they should. It’s more of a mesh of sounds. This makes it hard to hear some of the melodies that may in fact be present but are currently indistinguishable amongst the pollution. Also, where GSYBE knew how to use dynamics and each instrument and sound clip to its advantage, Hotel, Hotel are content to have everything heard at once. You can’t create unease if there’s no solitary comfort to have it arise from. Under Sea, Over Storm is such a bland mishmash of sound that I forgot I was listening to it half the time. I zoned out because I wasn’t hearing anything distinct or involving. I heard different instruments play random notes together, with a simple drum beat to keep it together. This is nothing more than a jam session by a garage band that happens to use unconventional string instruments. GSYBE used sound clips of voices and environmental happenings to give the following musical warning some context. Hotel, Hotel doesn’t so we’re not quite sure what the hell this music is trying to represent.

If there is anything positive to say about Hotel, Hotel on this EP, it’s that the members are ambitious to play an entire piece live. I applaud them for their ability to play something this unorganized and random as one collective musical unit. They apparently can decipher enough order in this collage of auditory catastrophe to know when to stop and start their instruments. Also, I believe they are coming from a good place, honestly trying to create something scary and threatening. Two violins playing together over sparse guitar work and a simple drum beat will sound a bit eerie, but it’s not enough to warrant any acclaim.

I realize that I’ve mentioned GSYBE a lot in this review, and there’s a reason for it. They do the genre perfectly, and they are a clear influence on Hotel, Hotel, who fails at the same mission. If you’re interested in the genre of atmospheric post rock, do yourself a favor and get the debut album of GSYBE, F# A# (Infinity), or at least listen to its second track, “East Hastings” (which was featured in the film “28 Days Later”). It is a chillingly beautiful and memorable slice of instrumental apocalypse. There is no reason to subject yourself to the second rate clone that is Hotel, Hotel.