It’s a kind of strange coincidence that at their Mercury Lounge show last July, Brooklyn bands Hospitality, ARMS, and North Highlands played in an order the exact opposite to their album’s release times. A unifying factor between all of the bands that night was that each was sitting on a mostly finished album awaiting release when the time was right. North Highlands was first, self-released on the first day of CMJ, ARMS next also opting to self-release, and Hospitality one-upped them all by signing to Merge Records and getting a release date months away.
While it’s no doubt due to my ongoing obsessive love with ARMS that I was even remotely aware of Hospitality’s existence, the other reason I mention the aforementioned show at Mercury Lounge is because, surprisingly North Highlands and Hospitality are similar. One plays dance-y genre-dodging blend of high energy tunes, the latter intelligent, well-paced pop with touches of rock where it matters most. But Hospitality, like North Highlands’ Brenda Malvini, triumphs through the focus on Amber Papini’s delicate vocals. In fact, they’re far more subdued than Malvini’s, who occasionally raises it for rousing shouts. But they’re by no means lifeless or passable, no, Papini’s the embodiment of that oft quoted Theodore Roosevelt saying: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Her stick of sorts is her winding tales of metropolitan life that imbue seemingly unimportant people and events with an endearing importance like “Betty Wang”. That and her band – Brian Betancourt and Nathan Michel bring Papini’s stories to greater life with their mindful arrangements and simplistic dressings that end up making the song (“Friends of Friends” outro in particular comes to mind). Hospitality’s songs are the kind that remain largely unexpected and delightful regardless of how many times you’ve sat down with the record, no doubt a testament to Papini’s deft songwriting and her bands thoughtful assistance. Several tracks you may have heard before, on the group’s debut EP way back in 2008, are given updates, transforming from lo-fi folksy pop numbers into higher quality tracks with a rock edge while retaining the same charm that led you to love them in the first place.
Though they may be the last from that fateful show to release their record, the wait was no doubt worth it. Each song on Hospitality has its place, wonderfully adorned with care and affection, what they lack in emotional vulnerability (a similar characteristic in North Highlands’ lyricism) they more than make up for in properly channeled talent and ability to just be darn good. Hospitality is downright enjoyable with just a hint of underlying quirk that’s just right regardless of mood. It’s poppy without being throwaway, smart without being bookish, and even manages to pack in a couple of cute moments into it. Hospitality’s is a record worth having – a surefire go-to when you’re looking for something just right.
Get a taste of Hospitality with "Friends of Friends" and listen to their self-titled debut on Spotify.