The first and great single from the band Hospitality is called “Friends of Friends”, and it’s a peppy and fun pop-rock song about exactly what the title suggests. The vibe of the song is warm and playful, and that’s a great way to describe the band as a whole – listening to their music is the auditory equivalent of a night out with friends. To clarify, their self-titled debut album isn’t some massive party involving drinking and debauchery, which sometimes defines our nights out with friends. No, this is more of a driving or walking around a city, stumbling into shops and goofing off with funny looking hats, and playing around in a park after sunset sort of vibe. There’s an innocence and purity that adds to the good-natured themes as well, even as a few tracks involve the ups and downs of relationships. A good band-to-band comparison would be to call Hospitality the more upbeat, less countrified American version of Camera Obscura, with strong hints of Belle & Sebastian. Considering how lovely both of those bands are, Hospitality appear to be well on their way towards a similar degree of respect.
The journey of Hospitality has been an interesting one thus far. They formed sometime back in the mid-00s, essentially a collection of friends, relative and lovers. Their lineup included sisters Amber and Gia Papini, multi-instrumentalist Nathan Michel, and bassist Brian Betancourt. Gia has since left the band, and Amber married Nathan, so they’re currently a trio. They weren’t in 2008 though, when after playing a show at Cake Shop in their hometown of New York City, they were approached by musician and producer Karl Blau, who was impressed and wanted to work with them. They very cheaply recorded a six-song EP, which was like their new album in that it was self-titled, and chose to self-release it as well. That earned them a decent amount of attention, however they put much of that early hype on hold to work on side projects and deal with some personal issues. They eventually reconvened however, and spent some time in a proper studio early last year recording their first full length effort with Michel and Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells) co-producing. After a few months of shopping around, Hospitality eventually signed to Merge Records late last year, hence the early 2012 release date.
Long time fans of Hospitality from their EP days will immediately recognize a couple of older songs making a reappearance. In 2008 that EP was put together using a 4-track recorder inside an apartment in Red Hook. Naturally, the end product came out sounding very lo-fi, and things have been cleaned up significantly since then. Everything on the album has a neat polish to it, as working in a professional recording studio will do that for you. That means tracks like “Betty Wang” and “Argonauts” got the same sonic upgrade too. Structurally, the EP transfers remain very similar to their original versions, the only notable changes come via tempo and tightness. “Betty Wang” strikes far harder and better than it did originally, amping up the energy and emotional investment to really sell us on the story. The same can be said for ballad “Julie”, which feels more expansive and gorgeous than before. The additional clarity on the carried over tracks also shows off more nuanced and layered instrumentation, though it’s most noticeable on the new songs like “Eight Avenue” and the brisk closer “All Day Today”.
Where Hospitality truly shines though is through the contributions of Amber Papini. Her vocals, similarly styled to a Tracyanne Campbell or a Laetitia Sadler, have a unique and compelling tone to them that draws you into a melody without being too overbearing or off-putting. It is a little odd that she has what appears to be an English accent despite having grown up in Kansas City, but little idiosyncrasies like that bring a small dose of extra charm to a record with plenty to spare. In addition to her voice, Papini’s lyrics are quite strong as well. Her storytelling comes off as natural and evocative, and though most of the tales are NYC-based, the twentysomething characters could really be having these experiences in any major city. If you’re of that young professional age and live in an urban environment, these songs should speak remarkably well to your own experiences, the ins and outs of everyday life. To go along with that, not every day is a perfect day, and so not every song is a perfect song on this debut album. Nothing is outright bad, but the album’s midsection can get a little mediocre at times with a couple songs that never quite make an impact. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes though, the so-so songs move by quickly enough that they make very little difference in your overall enjoyment of the record. In fact, you may find yourself wishing there was more of it once it’s over. Hospitality may not be the most innovative or original band in the world, but they definitely prove through their debut album that they know how to write a great pop song. For the majority of artists, that’s half the battle anyways.