Music

The Hotel Alexis: The Shining Example Is Lying on the Floor

Justin Cober-Lake

Hoteliers make a nice bed, but I'm not sure I can stay in it all night.


The Hotel Alexis

The Shining Example Is Lying on the Floor

Label: Broken Sparrow
US Release Date: 2005-03-01
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

The Hotel Alexis provides a comfortable resting place, but you don't go there for vacation. Instead, you stop in on your way back from a funeral; especially late in the fall and only if you're by yourself. In the movie version, the average filmmaker gets high overhead and captures you driving across a flat state. Before you reach the hotel, owner Sidney Alexis's music comes to you and helps you dig in to your melancholy.

Alexis, who kicked around a bit before deciding he needed his own project (and his own label), lived throughout the US, picking up oils and pastels here and there, but when he finally settled in New Hampshire, all he found in his canvas were some charcoals and a dab of burnt sienna. He drew a picture of a pedal steel guitar and then played it on his debut album, The Shining Example Is Lying on the Floor.

It's that pedal steel that everyone's been talking about, but the real strength of Alexis's music lies in his arrangements. He and his band never present a guitar show, but the steel shows up in comfortable places, drawing out a mood, or twisting through a song's steady plod. Using the instruments of Americana, the group works around post-rock ideas about structure and pacing. The Shining Example doesn't lure you in with hooks, but with atmospheres and tones.

Those tones tend to wind back to a deep sadness, but Alexis holds depression at bay. He offers autumnal images, but he sings with a voice that suggests a reserve of strength. Occasionally, as on "O K", the music breaks through to accompany that voice with optimism. This track begins with ambient keys before developing the slightest melody. Alexis sings as though wounded: "It's the best that I can do... I just want to say / 'I can be with you now'". You can believe him or not, but you can't doubt that, as he sings, he believes it. We don't know if he's made a recovery from the hurt he's caused himself and others, but we can feel that he's on his way.

As well-structured and affecting as this album can be, it suffers from a bit of sameness. The hopeful lyrics on "O K" echo the opening track's "I wanna bask in your shadow" [just a quick break: using "bask" here is either a clever shift to the literal definition, or a alienating snap from common usage -- you'll have to decide for yourself], but more than functioning as a thematic reminder, these lyrics show the lack of change throughout the disc. With too few highs, The Shining Example rides its depths just a little too long, so that they no longer become depths, but just status quo. That sunken level allows the mellow smile of "O K" to provide uplift, but it doesn't provide enough surface friction for a listener to latch on to.

That flat valley of emotion, while beautifully orchestrated and wonderfully performed, doesn't sustain itself for the course of an album. By placing "Comeback Kid" second, Alexis follows the High Fidelity rule of mix-making (taking it up a notch with the second song), but wastes one of his few upbeat numbers before we need a lift. The album, while not overlong, could benefit from either a chopped song or two or from some re-sequencing.

It's frustrating, because The Shining Example does come close. Alexis clearly understands how to develop his moods -- er, mood -- but he's not quite where he could be in designing a full-length album. I'll take this one for its individual moments (and in case I ever end up soundtracking a film), but I'm not ready to boost it up to the level of something I would automatically give for a gift. Unless a sad friend told me she was driving out west.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image