Just as they guiltlessly plundered organ riffs from the Band and made them their own last year, One Star Hotel again walks the fine line between honest singalong radio and indie pop stardom on their second full-length release. The glue on Good Morning, West Gordon is wedged between the band’s eagerness to carry forth the starry-eyed simplicity that distinguished the first record, and the ease with which they’ve polished this simplicity: by way of ever-thickening keys, percussion, pedal steel, and oh yes, the harmonies.
Good Morning, West Gordon is a welcoming portrait of Steve Yutzy-Burkey’s songbook, loaded with the four-star numbers that he pens for One Star Hotel. Yutzy-Burkey is the band’s songsmith, also commandeering the guitar, vocal, and organ duties. Lending an almost ubiquitous hand to Philadelphia’s pop sound, Bitter Bitter Brian McTear governs the production end of the foursome’s second album. He does so with the same warming results that admirers have come to expect, as found in the recent Bigger Lovers outing, Mazarin, Matt Pond PA, and others. One Star Hotel has opted for an even louder brand of rock this time around, and in some spots, these layers of sound elevate Yutzy-Burkey’s wanton, heartfelt lyrics to heights even nobler in stature.
In “Starlight”, Yutzy-Burkey’s words read like an AMC Matinee film script. The piece opens with the formula that One Star has mastered on this record: the piling-on of elements so dense that each instrument can be clearly identified, but for only a second as jubilance enters stages left and right with startling velocity. “Starlight”‘s opening sentiment calls to mind Jeff Tweedy’s m.o. in the era of A.M.: “They know you tend to live out loud, you stay up all night, and try to work things out / But in the arms of another, you’ll soon find yourself in freshly made-up mind / ‘I am controlled by the tide,’ you said, underneath the haze of city lights”. The verse’s melody here is far too significant to be quarantined off, so they borrow it for the chorus too. But before the chorus, guest Cornel Rempel whistles alongside a single note guitar solo with his saw, and Mr. Rempel’s tool shed interjection makes the orchestrated outro section all the more noteworthy.
The band ventures out into the backyard for the album’s title track, as Good Morning, West Gordon boasts songbird and street sound accompaniment behind its opening mellotron loop. Again, it’s not long before the whole neighborhood is involved in some kind of baptism barbeque celebration. Skyward harmonies abound, and One Star Hotel leaves no one behind for this plentiful hymn. Remarkably, an airplane can be heard overhead when the instruments die down, as if it had been beckoned by the scrambling alt-country congregation below. Yutzy-Burkey doesn’t miss a beat; beginning the subsequent and final vocal line with “In the spring, when the planes take to the sky ” Coincidence? That would be creepy. The final chapter draws on One Star’s ability to draft works for come-down time. It’s still huge and baked, but they bring the tempo down and allow room for the post-party celebration to take hold.
Good Morning, West Gordon is louder than the band’s first recording, at times rattling windows like they were taking a stab at their own Vets Stadium implosion. The moments spent on a softer approach here are followed closely behind by an extended, lush arrangement that adds a jolt to an already improved One Star Hotel. They’ve marched forward in deceptively simple-sounding melodies, matching their desperate undertones with weighty instrumentation and an earnest lyric notebook.