Rose Hotel Leads With Heart on A Pawn Surrender

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jordan Reynolds gets in her feelings while solidifying herself as a crucial figure in the Atlanta indie scene on her band’s second LP.

Music Reviews Rose Hotel
Rose Hotel Leads With Heart on A Pawn Surrender

The South is far from singular when it comes to music. Hip-hop may be Atlanta’s calling card, but like so many other cultural hubs throughout the Southeast, it’s bubbling over with a variety of sounds. Neighboring Athens steals most of the thunder when it comes to the most renowned Georgia rock music (and IPAs), but acts like Rose Hotel, who makes readily drinkable indie rock, should point your attention to inside the ATL perimeter.

Like the city she calls home, Jordan Reynolds’ artistry isn’t just one thing. Her new album A Pawn Surrender, which got its name from Reynolds’ recent chess fascination, isn’t just indie rock—it’s teeming with traces of lo-fi, folk, country and psychedelia. This feels like a fitting combination for Reynolds, who claims a swath of influences: Joni Mitchell; David Lynch; her hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky; and her new home of East Atlanta. All of it shines through on A Pawn Surrender, her second album under the Rose Hotel moniker.

Reynolds projected this rainbow of sounds with help from a cast of similarly diverse musicians and producers: Athens producer Drew Vandenberg has collaborated with fellow Atlanta musician Faye Webster on her signature muted bedroom funk; guitarist Luke Schneider works with country artists like Margo Price and Orville Peck; Neighbor Lady’s Jack Blauvelt brings a pop angle with his synth work. While all of these creators—Reynolds included—have booked many hours on the DIY scene, they achieve a decidedly polished sound on A Pawn Surrender. It’s hometown indie with a major-label finish, and Reynolds’ impeccable artistic instincts tie it all together.

The best example of this phenomenon on A Pawn Surrender is single “Fruit Tree,” a seductive number that makes excellent use of a flute, sounding not only like the screwball pop of Natalie Prass, but also a bit like the sleek fare of Lana Del Rey. The stirring “Pull the Wool,” which sounds instrumentally akin to something out of the Athens-hatched Futurebirds’ songbook, features stunning delivery on the pedal steel guitar by Schneider as Reynolds recounts a familiar sensation in this era of sensory overload: “It isn’t easy to unwind / I’m always moving too fast for my mind.” How to find a moment of peace, or to “keep this moment of blissful ignorance,” as Reynolds puts it, sometimes the answer is to just “pull the wool back over” your eyes.

She charts a similar course on the groovy alt-country foot-tapper “Illusion Anyway” (which also showcases some stunning pedal steel), asking, “How do you like to clear your mind?” But here, she favors facing the music over a wool-pull: “I’m forward-bound, I’ve lost the taste for heartache and malaise / It’s a waste of my days.” On the meditative “On Your Side,” however, we’re back to blocking out the bad stuff, “blissed out on a feeling” and totally enthralled with a “surreal” love affair. The dreamy tune crescendos in a trumpet outro that once again points to A Pawn Surrender’s chameleonic nature.

The closest thing to a title-track is “King and a Pawn,” which finds Reynolds spinning out over a nerve-wracking stalemate. The arrangement is super catchy, pressing together the airy dream-pop of Rose Hotel’s debut album I Will Only Come When It’s A Yes with assured indie rock guitars and drums. But the lyrics suggest something more fraught: A couple does a sick dance of avoidance across a chess board, forcing each party to think three steps ahead of the other in order to avert “complacency.”

You don’t want to find yourself vulnerable in a chess match, but that’s exactly where A Pawn Surrender takes us. Chess is a game of strategy, but Rose Hotel’s music is all about feelings: savoring them, ignoring them, giving into them, and letting them go. The album is refreshingly more concerned with expressing these authentic emotions than with honing a particular aesthetic. Some songs are fit for a wandering neighborhood walk with a lover, others for processing existential unease alone on the couch. All of them are easy on the ears thanks to Reynolds’ eloquent vocals. A Pawn Surrender’s arrival amid the first breaths of summer is most appropriate. You’ll find it’s best enjoyed on a patio with a local Atlanta (or Athens) brew, but any chilled beverage will do.

Watch Rose Hotel’s Paste Session from 2023 below.

Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a full-time editor and part-time writer. You can find her in Atlanta, or rewatching Little Women on Letterboxd.

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