Three months ago, Christian Holden, vocalist/bassist of The Hotelier, posted on the band’s Tumblr a very personal essay reflecting on how their last album, Home, Like NoPlace Is There, affected the band’s lives and how they were going to proceed in the future. The essay also featured Holden coming to terms with being a public figure and exploring trust, art, and “realness.” Somewhere in the middle of the post Holden writes, “And I think this is what bums me out about the wishy-washiness of rock music and performance. Realness is a treasure in life. I don’t want to see uncritical postured realness. I want transparency.” And, well, you can use that declaration as the thesis statement for The Hotelier’s stunning new album, Goodness.
The aforementioned Home, Like NoPlace Is There put The Hotelier on the map, but it will be Goodness that defines the rest of the band’s career. The former is a stark and intense look into how fucked everything can be. It’s relentless in its approach on how loss surrounds us and how volatile everything can be. Goodness is just as blunt as Home, but it goes in the opposite direction. The record isn’t as urgent as its predecessor, rather it picks and chooses its spots of energetic bursts. There’s an emphasis throughout on how interconnected everything is in this universe, no matter how significant, and how it all works within the natural cycle of life. There’s still loss in this world, but on Goodness The Hotelier realize how essential it is for love to blossom.
The difference in approach happens instantly, whereas Home opened with the knee-buckling devastation of “An Introduction to the Album,” Holden begins Goodness with a spoken word poem (“N 43 59 38.927 W 71 23 45.27”) that sets up the driving “Goodness Pt. 2” in which Holden – almost disconnected from the soft, subtle guitar chords and Sam Frederick’s repetitive drum rhythm – proclaims what could be the best example of Goodness’s realness: “Withered down to our basic components we are naked, at rest, and alone.”
Along with the transparency Holden portrays through their music, the lyrics also explore and interact with love, spirituality, life, death, and what comes after. The soft, wrenching ballad, “Opening Mail For My Grandmother,” works as the centerpiece, and it’s referenced again on the slow-burning “Soft Animal.” It’s here that Holden makes a connection with a doe that’s ultimately dashed when a group of hunters gun the animal down. Once seen as a devastating inevitability on Home, death and its aftermath are here treated as the precursor to rebirth.
Goodness is the first album The Hotelier have written that comes loaded with expectations. It would have been easy to fall back into the patterns and structures that made Home so impactful, but the Massachusetts quartet have never been that kind of band. The surging “Piano Player” and mid-tempo groove on “Two Deliverances” are prime examples of the band experimenting within the space of their sound (reminiscent of Mineral’s best work). It’s here we see the band evolving past the non-stop pace of Home and incorporating slower moments exactly where you’d expect something loud — the subject matter left to marinate in the almost-silence.
The album’s spiritual centerpiece, “You In This Light,” is musically light but harkens back to a failed relationship and realizing that the failure is okay. This failure leads to something new and participates within the natural progression of life (“Coming around again/making some space to mend/gaining the strength to stand/feeling the love again”). The song connects to Goodness’s previous themes and fits well with Holden’s description that the album is a Taoist love record. The power of this idea is also felt throughout the closing track, “End Of Reel,” a six-minute rollercoaster that’s as resoundingly positive as it is weary.
Some reviews may categorize this album as part of the emo revival, and while those writers won’t technically be wrong, Goodness is so much more than that. This is a record that transcends what an indie-rock album is capable of being, reaching for, and achieving. Going back to that blog post from February and looking at the end, we see Holden mentioning that “there are pieces of my life that I will share bluntly whenever, and pieces that I will only share on my own time. I will do my best to be honest with y’all and never treat you like you are unable to understand.” This is the promise Holden keeps with Goodness.
In a recent Stereogum article, Holden remarks that “you can’t live in anguish your whole life.” It’s critical that we note Goodness isn’t all sunshine and smiles – anguish still exists. But one of the definitions of ‘goodness’ is “the best part of anything; essence; strength.” And this record’s thirteen tracks clearly find the essence in all that anguish and loss, but it’s the strength of hope and love that emerges from it all.