For the record, Hospitality never sounded that much like Belle & Sebastian. Their sweet-eyed sensibility may conjure up the same impressions as those masters of twee, but from the start, their sound was their own. Their debut was declarative in its sensitivity and sensitive with its declarations. From the sound of it, the band has decided if it means something to them, they’ve got to say what they have to say a little bit louder now. Trouble sounds like Hospitality showing how the addition of a little more edge and disparity to their sound makes them no less inhospitable.
If you paid attention to tracks from their debut like “The Birthday,” you could see Trouble on the horizon. It’s that song’s specter which enthrones itself throughout most of this album’s sound. Their debut’s songs were polo-shirted and bespectacled, and so are these ones, but now they’re sheltering themselves against the cold with Doc Martens and faux-leather jackets.
Frontwoman Amber Papini doesn’t think she’s Patti Smith, but she’s not about to get left in the library either. Elvis Costello wore glasses and suits during every show but had the credibility of a liberty-spiked punk when it came to cataloging angst. This album rolls its eyes at music suggestive of partygoers and pure-id behavior but hints it’s not opposed to getting involved in that kind of action every once in a while.
“Nightingale” opens without as much of an immediate hook as the last album’s “Eighth Avenue,” but it more than makes up for it by the end. The swirling and prominent guitar licks match with synthesizers to crescendo with no points left unstated. “Going Out” makes the most of its loosened-tie bass line, and early single “I Miss Your Bones” still keeps up the same pleasant intensity with repeated listening.
“Rockets and Jets” stands out immediately as one of the album’s best tracks. It’s here the band best steps into the Talking Heads tradition of keeping punk energy college-educated. They’re the kind of grad-school types who know more about the Misfits and the Meat Puppets than the kids who mosh at their shows. The record’s got the same clarity as early New Wave. Hospitality is still far from being classifiable as punk or anything close to it, but this song in particular shows all the marks of people as familiar with Debbie Harry as Stuart Murdoch.
The twilight, synthed-out “Last Words” traffics well in the ominous shadows cast by its name. More than anything else on Trouble, this is where Papini and company can be seen branching out. Longer than “Like a Rolling Stone,” the song wanders without ever meandering. Like all the best melancholy, synth-driven songs of times gone by, it breathes with the determination of someone in the early stages of slumber. Hills rise and fall with regularity and each new keyboard sound suggests rapid eye movement is triggering a different kind of dream.
Songs like “It’s Not Serious” and “Sunship” are callbacks to the primarily acoustic delicacy of their debut. For that matter, it’s fitting Trouble ends only with the sounds of Papini’s warble and an acoustic guitar’s easy strums. Hospitality remains a band whose main purpose should be obvious: to make you feel at home. But home is just as much a place to complain and fear as it is to spin niceties and clever conversation.