This is a hard band, and album, not to like – as the inviting name of Hospitality promises. Even the if some of the songs have an edgier feel, like the excellent “Friends of Friends” with its striking and slashing guitar accompaniment, all the songs dissolve under the sweet voice of Amber Papini, a name that also feels, well, cozy. Most songs, however, have a comfy, even homey feel: a sleepier Belle & Sebastian (as in the first track, “Eighth Avenue”), with vocals courtesy of Camera Obscura (as in the haunting and brilliant “Argonauts”).
The early press on Hospitality’s signing played up the New Yorkness of the album. It was written, Papini has said, just after moving there. But I’m reaching the saturation point about the New York-centered view of the world: not everyone lives there. In fact, the songs point to the universal things in life, or at least life for twenty-somethings verging on thirty: making friends, keeping friends, finding a way in the world, balancing work and the rest of life. Leave the poetization of New York to Woody Allen and Lou Reed. Papini is unquestionably a solid songwriter, and channels well the angst of trying to fit in and make it in the world while at the same time trying to remain one’s true self. This isn’t a New York thing; it’s a human thing.
If there’s one point on which Hospitality risks overstaying its welcome, it’s in the sing-songy quality of Papini’s voice. When put in the service of a catchy melody, like in “Betty Wang,” the up and downness is muted and acceptable, but when it tries to carry the whole song, like on “Birthday”, it grows tiresome. This is why some of the songs that break out of the relaxed, acoustic guitar strum and start pushing the tempo provide us with some of the album’s real peaks. Some of the slower songs, like “Julie,” threaten to put us to sleep.
Signing with Merge pretty much marks Hospitality as a band to watch; this album makes the case they deserve our attention and our own hospitality. Let’s make them feel at home.