There’s a universal understanding in communication that hooks are imperative. Without a solid introduction, few, if any, will stick around to hear what you’ve got to say. Don’t expect people to pay attention to your speech, or watch your film, or listen to your album, if you don’t open your work with enticement. Above all, the beginning is an indication of what’s to follow. So what was to be expected when Goodness opened to a cold reading of a poem about naturalistic symbolism, spoken so nasally and uncomfortably delicate that it recalls reading in front of a group of peers you aren’t yet familiar with, struggling to find your real voice against the nerves masking it?
When The Hotelier released Home, Like Noplace Is There, it opened with “An Introduction to the Album”, an anthemic statement, one of destruction and misery and, most grippingly, the kind of screaming that comes from a place of vulnerability, and, perhaps most importantly, confidence. It was emotionally binding, instantly intoxicating. But with their follow-up, Christian Holden and company have made the mistake of dialing back the intensity in lieu of a gentler opening that spills out into an even softer album, a stagnation of all momentum built during their exhilarating 2014 rise. Despite its title of Goodness, the album’s running themes and sonic qualities give the impression that “Soft Animal” was the backup title, a catchall for the band’s intended balance between the precious emotionality and the following “raw” animalistic rage and exuberance. But in returning from their emo revivalist period with what can only be described as a mixture between mid-00’s alt-rock and adult contemporary, they’ve left a lasting stain of disappointment where there should have been solidification of their rock-rooted merits.
Admittedly, emo has never been a subgenre of rock whose lyrics were entirely praiseworthy. Even on Home, there were numerous lines whose catchiness overshadowed its quality, the kind of lyrics that weren’t exactly defendable (“I called in sick to your funeral”, “Cast a stone at the foe and the stone hit me”, the entirety of “Housebroken”). But being bogged down by underdeveloped word accompaniment didn’t stop the development of other aspects of the album. On “Your Deep Rest”, the guitar riffs were immediately recognizable. On “Dendron”, the refrain exploded into a gorgeous shimmer of echoic drums and rhythmic guitar strums. Even “Housebroken” offered something in its storytelling, or at least its attempt at an overarching metaphor, clunky though it was.
What Goodness offers seems to be nothing more than a watered down misdirection of a successor. Tracks blur together in time lapses of mellow, background rock that meander into a stunted climax. From “Opening Mail For My Grandmother” to “Two Deliverances” to “You In This Light”, the deep cuts are all saturated in studio polish, confusingly symmetrical in regards to structure and tone, not that the singles aren’t just as guilty of the same degree of overwork. In comparing the album to its predecessor, in all regards, it falls short. The themes of stripping away barriers in search of a connection to nature are lost amidst the gaudy, laughably pompous metaphors and cringe-inducing familial discussions. Granted, The Hotelier haven’t ever really shown a knack for addressing relationships well, but on Goodness, the excruciating, poorly strewn-together lines have nothing to hide behind. And when the backing music is as numbingly unflinching as it is on “Goodness, Pt. 2”, there’s little to be left satisfied with.
It’s improbable to believe those satisfied with Home, Like Noplace Is There are the same core audience that find solace in the contents of Goodness. Defenders of the virtues of emo revivalism are sure to cling to this output, disregarding its quality for what it represents, falsifying its means through sheer power of will and determination, which are, ironically, some of the most lacking elements in Holden’s delivery. Instead of the wits-end-deliria moments that came through on “Life in Drag”, we’re treated to three separate regurgitations of the same whimpered lullaby sample, “I see the moon and the moon sees me”. It’s a coy derivation of poetic devices, nonsensical wordplay whose meaning begins and ends in its shallow delivery of contrived theatricalities. Unlike the old nudists on the album art, Goodness is never intentionally uncomfortable, acting instead as a gag reflex for inspiration in rock music.
– Zach W.