First Impressions: Hospitality; Imperial Teen; Lilacs & Champagne

Hospitality, Hospitality

As the band’s name suggests, this is warm, welcoming music that doesn’t make a ton of demands on a listener. Just sit back and let this tuneful, acoustic pop-rock wash over you. Vocalist (and songwriter) Amber Papini has one of those delicate, almost child-like voices, like Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura. She can be playful, wistful, or longing, sometimes all within the same song.  

Papini is one of three musicians making up this Brooklyn band, releasing their first full-length record after an extended break since their 2008 debut EP. It’s worth the wait. They fill out their basic guitar and bass with a bit of an unusual drum sound (often more fill or accent than rhythm) plus a variety of instruments – saxes on the standout “Friends of Friends” (a head-bobbing pop gem), what sounds like hurdy-gurdy on the sad “Julie,” and keyboards on a number of tracks. Perhaps reflecting the life of musicians trying to make in NYC, there are a number of tracks about life and career choices, e.g. “Liberal Arts,” an easy strummer of a track, or “The Right Profession.” This isn’t the best produced or executed album, but all in all, it’s a decent collection.  

Imperial Teen, Feel the Sound  

Like Hospitality, Imperial Teen is a band that’s makes very serviceable and catchy pop-rock. Unlike the former, they’ve been at it a lot longer and so they have a considerably fuller and (I hate to use this word but can’t think of a better one) more professional sound. (Being a four-piece may help in this regard!)  

The key to the band’s sound is the interplay between the voices, two women and two men. They create an expansive range of vocal styles, with an emphasis on harmonies. Although it’s mostly sunny pop, they sometimes take the music in different directions. Take “Last to Know” with a low male voice joined by quiet low female voices until the females take over and the music begins to crash. The same low voice moves “Hanging About” along in an entirely different way, with gobs of echo and a haunting guitar bit creating a more dramatic feeling. And then you’ll come to one of those sunny pop tunes like “All the Same” or “Don’t Know How You Do It” that seem to come right off a California beach.  

Keyboards are also a big part of the sound. Two members of the band play keyboards and they often use rapidly struck notes on what I’m guessing is a retro electric piano or organ (perhaps a Fender Rhodes or Hammond B3). The sound is very much like that on Supertramp albums (minus the art-rock touches – it’s all pop here). This sets the tone, for example, on the first two songs on the albums, the kick-butt “Runaway”  and the highly catchy “No Matter What You Say” (with its great chanted chorus).  

Lilacs & Champagne, Lilacs & Champagne

A completely different animal from the above two albums, this is experimental, spooky, atmospheric, and ambient. Emil Amos and Alex Hall use samples, found noise, film soundtracks and who knows what else to create wildly freaky sound collages.  

Lilacs & Champagne offers “alternative” music that’s actually alternative. Definitely worth checking out, although I’d probably avoid listening to it alone in a dark room!

“Everyone Everywhere” (check out the odd horror show video) is a good demonstration of the vibe here: it starts with a snatch orchestral music that sounds like it comes from a horror movie. Then “Lilacs” introduces what I assume is a sample of a sly soul vocal over a funky yet still spooky track. There’s a sample of Arabic music in “Listener X” and some African sounding guitar in “Laid F***ing Back.” “Nice Man” consists of a snippet of an old sermon (“You expect the Antichrist to be some sort of nasty person? Of course he’s a nice man.”) over a trip hop beat.  

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