Album Review
The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There Album Cover

The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There

Reviewed by
The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There
Record Label: Tiny Engines
Release Date: February 25, 2014
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
In his 2003 book Nothing Feels Good, Andy Greenwald, a columnist for SPIN at the time, explored the community and music of the emo scene by presenting its culture through stories from the kids who bought the records, went to the shows, sang along with every word, and then tried to start their own bands in their parents' basements. Although much of the book focuses on the more commercially successful major-label emo that was dominant when it was written—and not coincidentally when this site began—Greenwald still does a very good job of backing up and telling the story of the underground “Midwestern” emo movement that occurred in the mid- to late-nineties. After all, the book is titled after the seminal record by The Promise Ring, arguably chief among those Midwestern emo bands. In describing the emotional punch that bands like The Promise Ring, Braid, Texas Is the Reason and Jimmy Eat World delivered, Greenwald wrote that, “the common lyrical thread of the mid-nineties emo bands was applying big questions to small scenarios. The approach was a combination of self-important and painfully shy, regressive and humble.” He goes on to say that none of these bands accomplished this more effectively than Austin, TX’s Mineral.

I begin with that quote from Nothing Feels Good for two reasons: first off, The Hotelier’s sophomore record Home, Like Noplace Is There reminds me a whole lot of Mineral’s debut The Power of Failing. Secondly, that concept of “applying big questions to small scenarios” is very applicable to what The Hotelier’s Christian Holden sings about on this record. A press release for the album says that “each song on Home, Like Noplace Is There makes a political statement, albeit by showing rather than telling,” and while I must admit I rolled my eyes a bit the first time I read that—particularly when I thought back to the band’s socially conscious but often heavy-handed debut—after further reflection it’s probably one of the most accurate statements I’ve read as part of a press release in a long time.

Even though all nine songs on this record are absolutely interconnected, the world of Home, Like Noplace Is There is not one in which every agonizing detail of the lyrical narrative is spelled out for the listener. Instead we are left to pick up the trail for ourselves and piece together the message, because the one thing that is clear is that something has happened here and it has shaken the album’s protagonist to his or her core. The album art is oddly appropriate, calling to mind the images we see on TV in the wake of hurricanes of condemned houses spraypainted with their death sentence: something gut-wrenching has happened here but we don’t really know the details, just bare outlines and silhouettes.

Two themes that present themselves multiple times throughout the record are issues of mental illness and gender identity. The record seems to follow a narrative arc in a way, with the two opening songs presenting the narrator’s perception of a world in which many struggle just to keep their head above water without really knowing why. From there, “In Framing,” and “Your Deep Rest” begin the story of a friend who is in so much pain they hate and hurt themselves. Self-harm and suicide aren’t exactly uncommon topics in the emo genre, but Holden’s approach is a far cry from the unhealthy glamorization of suicide sometimes criticized by those outside of the scene, instead presenting the harsh and heartbreaking reality of situations like those. Following this, “Among the Wildflowers” marks a transition into both the part of the record that addresses gender identity issues and the part of the record that has the heaviest sound: very reminiscent of recent records by the likes of Pianos Become the Teeth and Touché Amoré. I’ll get to the final trio of songs shortly.

Records that tell a story or could be considered a “song cycle” or “concept album” are obviously nothing new. But what’s impressive about the style in which Home, Like Noplace Is There unfolds is that it is not at all linear or one-dimensional—saving the record from the tediousness that sometimes accompanies this breed of album. Person, place and time are all blurred, but not without losing the feeling of a unified whole that tells a clear story. Even more impressive is the way Holden’s thoughts spill over from one line to the next in an almost Dylanesque sort of way, particularly noticeable in “An Introduction to the Album.” That song begins with about three-and-a-half minutes of plaintive balladry before the band tears the fucking roof off as Holden bellows “And the pills that you gave didn’t do anything / I just slept for years on end” in one of the most blisteringly cathartic moments on this sort of record since a similar one in Brand New’s “You Won't Know.”

Holden uses a variety of narrative styles on the record. On the earth-shaking “Life in Drag,” he describes someone who struggles with their gender identity in stark and barren terms: “I felt weak in woman's wear / Genderfucked, dilated / Stuck holding a stare.” On the very next track, however, he goes in an entirely different direction, instead opting for a song-length metaphor. The song ostensibly uses the story of an old dog chained up in a yard to express the ways in which society inhibits the native revolutionary tendencies in all of us. While it might seem a tad hokey at first, as the song progresses and freedom is offered to the canine in question, such potent lines as “We won't tell you to heel / Though you might need some time / To dig up those old bones / Your young self left behind” kick the song into another gear entirely. And then in the final moments of the song, Holden switches narrative perspectives, making it clear that despite whatever the dog in the yard thinks, he won't stand for this shit: "Try to muzzle me up / I'll lash out, I'll bite back / And keep my options open / For fear of becoming house—" as his voice trails off, the last word left unfinished.

I mentioned Mineral as a reference point for Holden’s lyrical and vocal styles, but musically The Hotelier’s sound is a little more upbeat. Expect propulsive, often pummeling drums, and forceful guitar work that occasionally is as infectious as Holden’s vocal melodies, with the two guitarists’ parts often interlocking with each other. Various points on the record remind me of the more traditional pop-punk numbers on The Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving, and the song structures aren’t too far off from the way Taking Back Sunday did business on their first two records: largely eschewing traditional verse-chorus-verse song structures in favor of songs that explode in their final minutes with a never-ending bridge. Furthermore, you also might notice that The Hotelier love waltz time, and they make great use of it.

Closing track “Dendron” brings these two songwriting elements together: the first portion of the song feels like a breath of fresh air, a moment of clarity at the end of a wearying emotional journey. Holden reflects that he drove the person he’s writing about away “through other’s rose prescription lens,” one of countless poetic but to-the-point lines on the record. But then after a few anthemic choruses, the song falls into a shuffling and spacious interlude that builds tension and acts as a segue to the final portion, where the band switches to waltz time. These last two minutes of “Dendron” are the spine-tingling emotional peak of the record as Holden pours every ounce of his soul into the final verses:
Part of your charm was the way you would push me from
All of the traps that I just couldn't see
Figures the one that was there to have tripped you up
Would be the one that was set there by me

Wish I was there to say goodbye when you went away
Wish I was home, oh but noplace was there
Cut off my arm at the bone in solidarity
Capital teaches that there's less when you share

And I felt the noose tighten up on your collarbone
And I felt the gun in the small of your back
Engraved in the stone by request, in recurse of friends dead
Is: “Tell me again that it's all in my head."

Those final lines not only sum up what is great about Home, Like Noplace Is There, they’re a fucking manifesto for what makes the top-tier records from our little scene so powerful. Like Greenwald said in his book over a decade ago, this kind of music takes big-picture ideas and feelings and plasters them on top of the grittiness or banality of day-to-day life. The effect is so powerful and emotive because it’s something we can all relate to. I’m obviously not suggesting that art has to be that direct to be relatable or powerful, but it’s certainly a very effective method. Holden feels the pain and desperation of the person he is writing about in a very real way, just not a physical one. And by extension we share both in that desperation and the catharsis that comes from airing it out.

With Home, Like Noplace Is There Christian Holden and The Hotelier aim high and don’t just hit their mark, they absolutely obliterate it. Personally I can’t remember the last time I was this floored by an emo or pop-punk record, and given the intricate layers of meaning and narrative, as well as the atraditional songwriting that allows Holden to achieve maximum emotional effect, after many, many listens I still feel like there’s a whole lot more here left to unpack. Home, Like Noplace Is There is a grand emotional and social narrative that cuts to the quick of difficult issues like depression, gender identity, and just generally feeling out-of-place when you should feel at-home, as suggested by the title. But perhaps the best part about the whole record? It’s a cathartic, anthemic blast from top to bottom, made to be screamed along with in basements, shitty cars, dive bars and VFW halls across the vacant middle of America from which the emo scene originally rose. These guys are on to something special; all that remains is for you to listen and start singing along.

Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 195
10:08 PM on 02/16/14
Zac Djamoos
no shade in the shadow of the cross
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motherfuck haha. good review as expected chris. i agree with pretty much very word
10:09 PM on 02/16/14
Star Slight
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10:14 PM on 02/16/14
saddr weirdr
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saddr weirdr's Avatar
Fantastic review. I really enjoyed reading it, and completely agree with your assessment.

The last time a piece of music floored me like this album did on first listen was when 'On The Impossible Past' dropped.
10:17 PM on 02/16/14
Ryan Gardner
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This is one of the best reviews I think I've read on the site, Chris. Man.

I need to spend a lot more time with this record. It's a lot to digest.
10:20 PM on 02/16/14
Registered User
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Sawhney[rusted]'s Avatar
I want to listen to this really badly now.
10:23 PM on 02/16/14
Stay Hungry. Stay Free.
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dannylololol's Avatar
Great record, great review. You nailed it.
10:26 PM on 02/16/14
Tell it like a comeback story
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f00te's Avatar
That good huh? I'll be checking this out.
10:26 PM on 02/16/14
Registered User
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oxeneers's Avatar
Nailed it. Probably the most important record out there right now. You barely talked about the incredible guitar work on the record, though. The lyrics and musicianship on display is fantastic, but, fuck - that guitar tone.
10:28 PM on 02/16/14
Chris Collum
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Nailed it. Probably the most important record out there right now. You barely talked about the incredible guitar work on the record, though. The lyrics and musicianship on display is fantastic, but, fuck - that guitar tone.
Yeah I also wanted to talk about how the production is such an improvement over the squeaky-clean bullshit that the wave of emo/pop-punk bands a decade ago utilized. But alas my novel was too long already.
10:35 PM on 02/16/14
easy come and easy go, whatever
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Jeff_Ryan's Avatar
Damn - i guess I'll put this on my iPod before work in the morning. I enjoyed reading this a lot even though I haven't heard it yet
10:36 PM on 02/16/14
No Closer To Heaven
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This album is truly incredible, It's honestly the only thing I ever want to listen too.

Fantastic review, definitely one of the best I've seen on this site. Completely agree with everything you mentioned

I was kind of proud of my review of this album and now I think it sucks haha
10:39 PM on 02/16/14
Chris Collum
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Damn - i guess I'll put this on my iPod before work in the morning. I enjoyed reading this a lot even though I haven't heard it yet
Yeah man. Best record to come out of this scene in awhile. I thought the TWIABP album from last year was the hardest an emo album was gonna hit me at this point in my life, but I was wrong.
10:40 PM on 02/16/14
Regular Member
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areyoukittenme?'s Avatar
This review makes me really excited about a band I've never actually listened to so I will definitely check this record out.
10:43 PM on 02/16/14
easy come and easy go, whatever
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Jeff_Ryan's Avatar
Yeah man. Best record to come out of this scene in awhile. I thought the TWIABP album from last year was the hardest an emo album was gonna hit me at this point in my life, but I was wrong.
Haha yeah I know what you mean. I'll let you know when I listen to it tomorrow

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