Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hospitality shines in studio and stumbles on stage

Hospitality, Merge Records' latest signing, will release its debut self-titled album on Jan. 31 -- and it's already assured of a spot on at least my honourable mention list when I compile my favourite releases of 2012 in about 350 days.

The New York City band formed in 2007 and has grown into a quartet that's landed opening slots for Stereolab, Wild Flag, Frog Eyes and The Rosebuds. The group's relatively gentle, lo-fi indie pop caught my ear off the first listen. 

The most immediately noticeable aspect of Hospitality is lead singer/guitarist's Amber Papini's voice. It's not particularly strong, but it fits the material that Papini also writes. I'd heard that she tried to emulate Psychedelic Furs singer Richard Butler, and perhaps a bit of his sometimes deadpan delivery is evident. But more often I thought I was capturing strains of Claudine Longet in one of the funniest movies of all time, The Party.

The arrangements aren't too complex, but they have depth, and the three musicians who augment Papini play their parts well. Band member Nathan Michel co-produced Hospitality with Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells) and, after seeing the band in person on Wednesday night, their impact is larger than you might originally think.

Hospitality's performance started slowly but picked up in places, most notably on "Friends of Friends," "Eighth Avenue" and "All Day Today." But for the most part it seemed a bit flat and uninspiring and didn't reach the heights I'd hoped for going in.

Since I like most of the songs on Hospitality quite a bit, I'd give the band another shot live. But after a few listens to the album and viewing one performance, I'd say your money is better spent on the recorded version than the live version of the band.