AOTY Contender Series: The Hotelier - 'Goodness'

First, a sidebar: The idea here is to highlight albums each week that are album of the year contenders for me this year. I already have a semi-formed idea of which albums are really in the final running to be #1, so this series is more meant to highlight albums that I've loved to a great enough extent that they gave me that type of feeling. Here's all of the pieces so far.

This piece serves as a bit of a spiritual follow-up to my notes on Against Me!'s Shape Shift With Me, and a follow-up to something I talked about with Jason on Encore back in March. The podcast topic was all about the first listen you dive into of a new album that you're very highly anticipating, and how that first listen is often filled with a sense of self-imposed "worry" or "anxiety." I use air quotes here because the worries and anxieties caused by this are certainly not as dramatic as...like...real-life issues, but it's a sense that I've become familiar with over the years and I think it's a sense that all music lovers get from time to time.

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My thesis statement in regards to this topic (the podcast convo starts around the 51-minute mark of this episode) revolves around the mind games you can start to play with yourself after taking your first listen. In fact, those mind games can start even before the end of your first listen depending on how loopy you're being. All of this was presented in the context of my first time listening to The Hotelier's third album, this year's Goodness (Apple Music / iTunes, Spotify, YouTube embedded below, Bandcamp, vinyl). I wound up totally psyching myself out before diving in for the first time, and by midway through the record I was convinced that it would never hold a candle to Home, Like NoPlace Is There, an album that I loved dearly when it was released in 2014 and still love dearly.

Truth is, rarely will any album be able to live up to the lofty expectations that you burden it with when those expectations come via the lens of an album you've been in love with for any amount of months or years. Home, Like NoPlace Is There was not a record that blew me off my feet the first time I listened to it; it's an album that slowly latched onto me until I became familiar with every crevice of it. I listened to it endlessly, which expands your love for an album -- you come to know every downstroke of a guitar or snare hit, and those moments come to mean more to you when you've sat with a record for dozens of listens. A new album that you're listening to for the first time will never match up to the emotion you retroactively place into an album that you fell in love with however long ago.

This perhaps all seems obvious enough, but I never took the time to think about this phenomenon much until Goodness placed it into obvious context for me. And, as I predicted at the time, continued listens to the album saw it growing on me as I started to understand its ebbs and flows a little better. I wound up liking it, but it's not really an AOTY contender for me -- I am more kinda just using this series as an excuse to put my fingers on the typewriter and blog about this whole "anticipation effect" or whatever.

Goodness is very good, but I don't feel as though it's on par with Home after listening to it countless times. Home is probably a one-off, once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing in terms of how it connected with me, and that's fine. I might argue that On The Impossible Past was that type of release as well, but with both The Hotelier and The Menzingers, only more full-length releases will tell if they ever mange to live up to the high billing they set for themselves.

This album undoubtedly houses some memorable tracks. "Piano Player," "Settle the Scar" and "Soft Animal" are all heavy hitters; "You in This Light" and "Two Deliverances," meanwhile, continue to stand out to me as favorites. The album is masterfully written and wonderfully paced, aside from the intermissions (but to be fair, I've never really met an intermission that I enjoyed a ton). 

It's not that Goodness should go down as any type of disappointment. Like I tweeted semi-drunkenly when I went on a rant that inspired that podcast topic, what if the worst thing you can say about an album was that it didn’t define an entire year of your life? Home might have done that, but Goodness not doing it doesn't make it a failure. And I don't mean to say that Goodness is an otherwise flawless album that falls just short of being an insta-classic -- I don't really think it's that good. But it's well done, it's an enjoyable listen, and it's an extremely solid addition to the catalog of a band that's building a really strong one.

Part 6 of the AOTY Contender Series.