The New Hotelier Song (AKA, A Grown Man Talks About Emo)

A lot of digital ink has been spilled regarding the current wave of semi-credible indie rock bands with obvious emo leanings, leading many to say that we, as a youth culture (ha, a 27-year-old writing about “youth culture”) have a full-blown emo revival on our hands.

My take: people are kind of right. Ernest, swelling, embarrassingly personal bands are certainly in vogue right now (especially in Philadelphia, which is itself having something of a moment on the national punk stage), and while that brand of heart-on-sleeve emotion was relegated to the world of new-folk and folk-revival a few years ago with bands like Frontier Ruckus and (to a lesser extent) Okkervil River, feelings have indeed come home to roost with emo-inspired rock bands.

Still, it’s not a true revival to me, because it only reflects on aspect of emo music. Many of the bands getting blog bylines about emo revival play what I think could charitably be called “midwestern emo” or, more snarkily, “Kinsella-emo.”  While I don’t want to take anything away from stalwarts like Into It, Over It or Pentimento, but this new wave of emo music is missing that east coast sound that bands like Saves the Day (yay!) and Taking Back Sunday (…) broadcast to a generation of children going through puberty.

In other words: it’s cool that you can play in an alternate tuning and discovered that one American Football album in college like the rest of us, but have you ever just written a punk song?

Anyway, this is a very long preamble for me to tell you about Hotelier’s new album and, more specifically, the first track off that album.

The band formerly known as The Hotel Year has released it’s first album in three years, Home, Like Noplace There is, and it’s pretty great because it reaches across all of emo[s subgenre’s for it’s sound. The record reminds me of Saves the Day and Taking Back Sunday in spots, but one can also hear fragments of Braid, Motion City Soundtrack, Bright Eyes and Cursive in it’s nine-song nu-emo opus. I recommend it to anyone who has a soft spot for this kind of feelings music.

That said, I recommend the opening track, “An Introduction to the Album,” to anyone and everyone.

Musically, it’s a four-minute long story. When I say that, I’m not talking about the lyrics at all (which are fine, if a little overwrought): I mean that the instruments and how they are played tell a story. It’s almost like a post-rock song that someone threw some lyrics on to. The whole things hangs on a simple-yet-clever guitar progression and subtle developments on the main theme, before exploding, as all punk songs must, into a blaze of drums and group vocals. It’s a pretty great accomplishment in emo-ship, and easily the best rock song I’ve heard this year outside the Lawrence Arms.

Jared Adams is a Lie

I did not plan to spend two hours talking about one rap song with my cousin.

I heard “The Devil is a Lie,” the latest single off Rick Ross’s forthcoming album Mastermind, twice in two days while driving around Philadelphia. I like the song and thought I might see if it had a music video.

Does it ever have a music video.

Continue reading

The Three Shoes You Meet in Heaven

Stock photo of a businessman enjoying shoes, you are my only friend.

I’ve never really gotten into sneaker culture. The closest I have ever come to dipping my toes into that world occurred when I was 16 and my mother accidentally bought be a pair of Funkmaster Flex Streetwalkers for Christmas (at least, I’ve gone my whole life thinking this was an accident. It could be my mom was listening to Hot 97 and dropping bombs on particularly well-balanced books at the end of each fiscal quarter). This is not to say that I do not see the appeal of being a sneakerhead. Truth be told, I’d happily drop five-figures on a series of dope-ass shoes if things like “rent,” “groceries,” and “bills” didn’t exist.

I bring all this up because Respect has a list of the three hottest shoes to get on a budget in the coming year. The most expensive shoe comes in well under $200 and the cheapest option sits in the mid $80s. That’s still a lot to pay for what is, ostensibly, a foot-condom to keep gum off our soles and stink out of our noses, but it’s not like they’re telling us all to buy Red Octobers or whatever.

So, yes. Good list, Respect. Those are very likely three shoes you SHOULD buy this year. In response, I’m going to tell you about the three shoes you are GOING to buy this year.

1) Shitty brown flip-flops

Hello darkness, my old friend.

It’s currently about 25 degrees in Philadelphia, but it isn’t always going to be. Someday, it’s going to be very hot outside. So hot, in fact, that you will likely want to let your feet air out in public, stinking up a park with your toe funk.

To that end, you are going to buy a pair of shitty brown flip-flops. These flipflops will be faux-leather. The will be thong sandals, not the kind that Geordi-eyes over your feet, because you are not showering in a college dorm.

You will wear these sandals at every non-professional occasion between June and September because the heat makes it okay for all of us to walk around like we’re high school lacrosse players. By the end of the year, your shitty brown flip-flops will be black and smooth from where your foot jucies have eaten away at the crummy external coating. They will hurt your arches, dig into the top of your foot and smell like three months of toe-reek. You will throw them away, vowing next year to grow up and not wear sandals any more. You will buy the same pair again in May. This process will proceed for the rest of your natural life.

2) Some Kind of Dress Shoe From Payless

So fun! So hip! So You!

You will discover, at some point this year, that you do not have any of a specific kind of dress shoe. If you need black, you will be without. If you need brown, you will realize the only brown shoes your have are those shitty sandals (which you would still wear if this wasn’t your sister’s wedding). If you need blue, you are likely in the Navy and you are fucked because the Navy doesn’t just give out news shoes, that’s going to be three weeks PT duty and 50 push-ups, sailor.

You will discover your shoe deficit anywhere from 24- to 3- hours before you actually need them. You will curse, then you will use your computer, smart phone or brain to find the nearest Payless shoe store. You will then drive / bike / public transport / walk to said Payless, with the express goal of spending no more than $20 on these goddamn dress shoes for this goddamn wedding that you don’t even goddamn care about, darn it.

You will navigate the packs of unattended children who are always, ALWAYS roaming the shoe-racks of payless until you find dress shoes that fit you. They will be ugly, but what the hell did you expect? You’re at a Payless in Huntington, WV for your sister’s wedding. This isn’t Paris and you aren’t the queen. You will, as politely as you can, turn down the offer for a Payless membership card at the checkout, because, jesus christ, who in their right goddamn mind would ever want a card proving their alliance with Payless?

These shoes will bend, but never break. When the rivers boil with blood and the sky falls from the heavens onto the screaming masses of earth, only these shoes and Twinkies will remain.

3) Socks

When you tell me “socks aren’t shoes, Nate,” all I’m hearing is “I have never hit bottom.”

Go get more socks. You can always use them. I like to splurge and get three fancy pair from Sears or wherever, something with argyle or pinstripes or the like. This makes me feel better when I inevitably buy a 12-pack of cheaply-made feet washcloths for 7-Eleven.

Happy shoe hunting.

Hear a Stream of Beck’s New Album, Because You Are Someone’s Dad / Uncle

NPR is hosting a stream of Beck’s forthcoming album, Morning Phase. You can listen to it here. The album is scheduled for release on Feb 25.

A few thoughts:

  • Morning Phase is Beck’s first album in just over 5 years. Modern Guilt came out in 2008, and The Information, which is the last Beck album that I paid any real attention to, came out while I was a junior in college (2005).  Not to turn into a Buzzfeed article, but I didn’t realize Beck had been gone so long.
  • The initial buzz around  this forthcoming album is that it sounds like Sea Change, Beck’s sad-sack album released in 2002. I happen to like slow Beck more than most (it is, by far, my favorite kind of Beck). Listening to the album stream, I can understand why people are drawing a comparison to the two, but Sea Change sounds a little more like a traditional folk record, and Morning Phase reminds me of 50s America-pop most of the time.
  • If you like Beck, you are either A) someone’s kid brother, B) a Dad, C) a “cool” uncle, D) a person who has, at the very least, considered donating to NPR, or E) all of the above.
  • Beck headlining a night at Pitchfork fest is some real hot bullshit.

Check out the stream here.

Your Unemployment! Jams of the Week

Music for people living on the cheap. Three songs to make you feel rich as fuck, even if you aren’t.

1) Sam Smith – Nirvana

What it is: One of those newfalged bedroom RnB projects that is / was all the rage now / six months ago. Sam Smith’s EP, Money on my Mind, comes out Tuesday.

What You Could Use it For: Gettin’ romantic with somebody.

What I’m Gonna Use it For: Naps.

2) I-20 – Stairways

What it is: The last track from I-20′s 2013 mixtape, The Amphetamine Manifesto 2, which you can (and should) download for free.

How to Listen to it on a Laptop: with headphones, turned up as loud as possible.
How to Listen to it in a Car: turned up as loud as possible, dancing like an asshole.

These are the only two ways to listen to “Stairways.”

3) Ladyhawk – War

What it is: a drunk-rock piano song from a Canadian band that never really happened, despite my best efforts (of blogging about them when I was 19).

What to Do With it: Drink a bunch and get a little bit sad.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About the Hold Steady

Noisey has a 10-year retrospective up on the Hold Steady. It’s a pretty good writeup: it mixes the writer’s personal relationship to the music with quotes from the band’s primary creators, Craig Finn and Tad Kubler. The whole thing is worthy of your time, but this paragraph specifically stuck out in my head.

After that virtuosic run of albums, the Hold Steady released the very good Stay Positive in 2008, capitalizing on their newfound status as the most righteous band in indie rock. (I mean, look at that title.) What happened next was, by the band’s account, a little trying. A European tour was canceled on the eve of setting out because of Kubler’s bout with pancreatitis. After putting out four albums in five years, the band found themselves pushing harder to complete out the next.

“It was rushed,” Kubler says of the 2010 release, Heaven is Whenever. “Not everybody was on the same page, and I don’t think there was a lot of communication.” (It should be noted that my interviews with Finn and Kubler are conducted separately.)

Longtime keyboardist Franz Nicolay, whose contributions were crucial to the sweeping melodrama of Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America, left during the making of Heaven is Whenever, and had some unkind things to say to say about their direction. He will not make a sentimental reappearance during the show, sadly, and Kubler doesn’t refer to him by name when his contributions come up.

When people talk about the Hold Steady, what they are really talking about is the band’s first three albums (or, if I’m being honest, their second and third). What they aren’t talking about is the band’s later work, which has largely been derided, even by the band itself, if this Noisey piece is correct. I’m not going to go to bat and suggest that anything the Hold Steady and its affiliated put out after 2006 was as good as its run from 2002 to 2005, but there’s enough good there that it should not be completely overlooked.

Event at their worst, the Hold Steady is better than most. Here’s a quick primer to their lesser known and late period work.

“Lord I Am Discouraged,” Stay Positive: I’m not as nuts about Stay Positive as some of my peers are (both the album and the song, the latter I think is vastly overrated), but I love me a guitar solo. This slow-jam boasts the album’s best by far.

“Quiet Where I Lie,” Major General by Franz Nicolay: The breakup between Franz Nicolay, the mustached keyboard player who’s runs gave wings to the band’s best moments on Boys and Girls in America, and the rest of the Hold Steady is well-documented as acrimonious. Personally, Nicolay’s solo work doesn’t justify his departure, but Major General has a handful of strong moments. “Quiet Where I Lie” stands tallest of them all, and incidentally sounds the most like a Hold Steady song.

“New Friend Jesus,” Clear Heart Full Eyes by Craig Finn: Finn’s one solo album is a hit-and-miss collection of cracked alt-country that plays both like a much needed departure from his full-time gig and a testing ground for future Hold Steady work. “New Friend Jesus” is a sly song, one of Finn’s funniest and the most removed from his bar-rock leanings.

“Our Whole Lives,” Heaven is Whenever: For my money, about half of Heaven is Whenever is strong, quality song crafting. It shoots 50%, which is about what Steph Curry, the best scorer in the NBA, shoots. For any other band, that’s a great split, considering how many albums are released with no more than three good songs, if that. Of course, this isn’t any other band. The Hold Steady set the bar so high with their previous albums (Stay Positive notwithstanding) that any dip in quality would be glaring.

History may not be kind to Heaven is Whenever when all is said and done for the Hold Steady, but people should take another look at “Our Whole Lives,” which echoes the band’s earliest work while illustrating how it’s guitar-heavy sound could work going forward.

“Barely Breathing,” Heaven is Whenever: Songs about being punk then not being punk anymore are my bread and butter.