Jordan Geiger, the frontman and brainchild of the Kansas project Hospital Ships, has got the melancholy and desperation of Conor Oberst and the voice of Ben Gibbard (which goes to show you just how melancholy and desperate Conor Oberst is when I didn’t even use Ben Gibbard as the full example). On Oh, Ramona, Hospital Ships’ debut album two and a half years ago, Geiger manifested a primarily acoustic LP in the vein of the Decemberists, disguising the destitution of his lyrics by pumping the songs full of life with percussion and organs. On Lonely Twin, however, Geiger takes on a much more Death Cab for Cutie-ish approach, processing his voice with that breathy wisp for which Gibbard is known and implementing strings and drum kits to back simple yet eloquent piano and guitar tunes. And though it’s not as good as his first effort (nor as terrific as his mid-2000s lo-fi troupe, Minus Story), Lonely Twin has the passion and determination to demand a listen or two.
For music geeks that have known Geiger since the beginning (which are most likely either critics getting sent his LPs for free to analyze the hell out of them, or friends of his from Kansas), they won’t be bothered by the Ben Gibbard influence and will probably enjoy the new territory he’s explored here. For those, however, who happen upon Lonely Twin as their first experience with Geiger, they likely won’t be able to shake the similarity of his voice to the Seattle native. They may even mistake it as a side project of Gibbard’s that’s not as good as Death Cab for Cutie, so they’ll then toss it aside and put on Transatlanticism for another two years. (Due to this information, you can deduce that this project isn’t at all like the Postal Service).
But once you can look past the vocal similarity, you’ll notice that Hospital Ships has a very different feel from Death Cab. That layered formula doesn’t exist in Geiger’s world, but instead a rather varied mix of influences, from quiet piano ballads to the bombastic static of Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump. Track three, “Bird in Furs”, resembles what Dr. Dog would sound like if they played MTV Unplugged, while “Old Skin” channels upbeat Bright Eyes. Track seven, “Anyone, Everyone”, stands out from the pack with the most clever breakdown, but then “Carry On” has the darkness of the Avett Brothers’ saddest song.
Normally, this jumpy nature would make for a very static album, but Geiger’s lyrics are what hold everything together. Make no mistake: the majority of this album is depressing as all hell. Upon hitting play, listeners are hit over the head with Geiger shrieking, “Open up the door and let me in”, which shouldn’t be shocking coming from a guy who names himself after a boat that provides medical aid, yet it is. After he explains to us on “Carry On” that “the world doesn’t care whether you’re in it or not”, then further cries on “Little Dead Leaf” that he’s on a “search with no end, like a little dead leaf blown by the wind”, you’re ready to name this the Requiem for a Dream of recent music.
But when Geiger ends the album by saying, “Goodbye, moonlight / Hello, new life”, and bursts into a quick-paced piano rhythm that sends our blood flowing, he leaves us bearing a question we never expected to ask ourselves: Is this new life a good thing? Unlike Lloyd Christmas when he discovers he was supposed to meet Mary Swanson in a bar at night, Jordan Geiger seems to have gone through such pain and personal anguish (“Such hell!”) for something after all. As a sonic burst emanates during the final seconds, we’re left feeling okay with Geiger’s rebirth, despite the way in which he achieved that goal in the first place.
So you can’t judge Hospital Ships for sounding like Ben Gibbard, and the reason for that is because you all still love Muse even though Matt Bellamy is the spitting sound wave of Thom Yorke. Let’s face it; 90% of America thought “Time Is Running Out” was a new single from Radiohead when they first heard it on the radio, but guess what? We all continued listening to Muse… because they make good friggin music (well, until 2008). And the same goes for Hospital Ships. This isn’t the solemnness of Jordan Geiger’s first album, nor is it the trippy experimental rock of Minus Story, but this LP is the work of someone growing into his skin as a songwriter. And it’s not like Ben Gibbard didn’t have to do the same.