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(Merge; US: 31 Jan 2012; UK: 31 Jan 2012)

Living up to its name, Hospitality serves up indie-pop comfort food with a sound that’s warm, inviting, and familiar. On its eponymous debut, the up-and-coming Brooklyn band mines those time-tested twee themes of unrequited love and self-doubting ennui with a sweet-and-sour aesthetic that conjures up a pit-of-your-stomach feeling that could either be anxious anticipation or impending doom, whether it’s over love, what to do with yourself, or life in general. Considering how well crafted Hospitality is, it’s tempting to think that the trio is more experienced than its years, except that it takes a certain kind of precocity and earnestness to capture a snapshot of that time in your life when you know enough that you realize you really don’t know enough about how the world works, especially other people.

If that’s where you’re coming from, the wry, poignant leadoff track “Eighth Avenue” shows that Hospitality lead Amber Papini knows how you feel, coming off like the stateside cousin of the Belle and Sebastian girls or Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell.  When she sings, “Watch the computer / Sit by the telephone / Waiting for hours / Video games / Books on the bed,” Papini’s just as vivid as they are in conveying what it’s like waiting for life to happen as it passes you by. But as the fragile baroque-pop of “Eighth Avenue” begins to feel like a rote copy of the group’s obvious influences, Hospitality roughs things up with some ragged, sloppy noise that proves its roots are Amerindie. Swaggering to a Strokes-lite intro that tries to hide the bleeding heart on Papini’s sleeve, Hospitality’s first single “Friends of Friends” adds to the band’s what-am-I gonna-do-now sensibility, as Papini alternates between fronting and letting down her guard, wistful, desperate, and defiant at the same time. After she sighs, “When I call / You don’t pick up any more,” whether to a crush or a fickle BFF, she tries to pick herself up and dust herself off by relying on “friends that are new friends and friends that are old friends,” though what’s most compelling about Papini’s persona here is actually how unconvincing her rationalizations about her hurt feelings are.

Indeed, what makes Hospitality’s vignettes so engrossing is the cast of characters orbiting around Papini, the friends of friends, old and new. There’s the old college classmate of “Liberal Arts”, who, depending on your perspective, gave up on his idealism or grew up then apart from you; “You traded all your time for money and the blues,” Papini tells him, with an air of resignation. Then there are the new folks you meet when you get a life and a job, like the real-world namesake of the giddy pop song “Betty Wang”, who was apparently one of the few women execs at a bank where Papini worked. At once admiring and bemused while she’s taking everything in, Papini paints a picture of how adult relationships work when you’re just figuring them out, giving Betty Wang her approval while she’s seeking it from her: “You’re the only friend on my team / You don’t laugh at my jokes / I appreciate your time.”

Sure, the coming-of-age stories on Hospitality run the risk of being too cutesy and saccharine, be it because of the tone of the music or the themes, like on the make-believe summer fling of the gauzy “Sleepover”—the lyric “Let’s pretend that we’re married / Keep your head under the sheets” sounds even more precious than it reads—and the too-smart-for-its-own-good allegory of “Argonauts”. But on the whole, Papini and company maintain a pretty deft hand painting their scenarios and predicaments, using concrete details to make them palpable and resonant, at least for its probably urban, over-educated, post-grad demographic. There are enough biographical touches and geographical markers on “Betty Wang” and “Liberal Arts” to breathe life into them, but it’s the punkish ditty “The Right Profession” that’s the most authentic in the situation it sketches. With Papini getting agitated over finding a job that’s not just a job, “The Right Profession” is also about much more than that, as she delves into the identity crisis that comes seeking with gainful employment (“Staring at the wall / Staring at the hall / The same old job / It’s not the right profession.”)

In the end, it’s particularly apt that the best way to describe Hospitality would be to say that the band is like one of Papini’s characters: accomplished and bright, with more room to grow. Tapping into its potential on this initial outing, Hospitality looks like its found more than a career, but a vocation that’ll keep it busy for a while.


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