Brooklyn based trio Hospitality certainly don't appear to be trying very hard. From the obtuse band name to the seemingly obligatory faded photograph which graces the cover of their self titled debut, the band seem on the surface to be purveyors of bland, middle of the road indie rock; that is, until you listen to their record.
Opener “Eighth Avenue” romps along like any good indie-pop song, breathy female vocals included, until the knotty chord changes and tense melody of the chorus come along to let you know this won't be your average ride on the merry-go-round. Instead, the group leads us through 10 songs of pure pop innovation; from the sparkling twee of “Betty Wang” to the woozy wash of “Sleepover,” the album varies just enough to avoid stagnation, yet never too far as to alienate the listener. Hospitality is a band which operates like the best of chefs; taking simple, unassuming ingredients and transforming them into something beautiful through sheer knowledge of the craft. Take lead single “Friends of Friends” for instance. Where a lesser group may have let the simple structure and infectious vocal melody carry the tune throughout, Hospitality fill in all the right gaps to make the track a true earworm. A horn flourish here, a slight jerk in rhythm there, and what could have been a very tepid tune is suddenly a song which you find yourself humming at random intervals throughout the day.
Aside from the band's gleefully off-kilter version of pop, the lyricism of frontwoman Amber Papini is what makes Hospitality such a rewarding listen. Being a twenty-something starving artist in New York myself, Papini's trials and tribulations concerning being just that can alternately make one smile and cringe. Riffing on topics varying from young, maudlin guys who aren't very good in bed (“Eighth Avenue”) to not caring how far uptown a friend lives (“Betty Wang”) Papini has managed to romanticize the lives of young New Yorkers, yet still sneak in a jab or two. “So you found the lock/but not the key that college brings/and all the trouble of a BA in English Literature/instead of law, or something more practical,” Papini croons on the incisively titled “Liberal Arts,” a song which stings with upper middle class regret. Plus, post-collegiate blues never sounded more tuneful.
Hospitality is a record which took three-plus years to complete, and it shows. It sounds as if every element was labored over again and again, usually an indication of so-so songs to begin with, but not the case here. Here, each detail seems perfectly in place, almost as if it were one of those “magic eye” posters; it may not seem like much at first, but look closer. Ah, now you see?
Hospitality is available now through Merge Records. Above is the funny/rad video for "Friends of Friends."