For Fans Of
A few years ago, after developing an affinity for spoken word poetry, my older brother showed me Hotel Books. I remember listening to ‘Constant Collapse’ and getting shivers up my spine and all throughout my body. The song’s post-rock tendencies, melodic sensibility and Cam Smith’s powerful poetry and vocals all accumulated into an intense and emotional four minutes. The next thing I know I’m spinning their double EP/album ‘I’m Almost Happy Here, But I Never Feel At Home’ back to front over and over, taking in every nuance of their sound and emotive words and loving all of it.
Hotel Books quickly became a band that resonated with me for the years to come.
Fast forward two and half years and we arrive at ‘Run Wild, Stay Alive’, the band’s latest and most diverse release yet. From the second the record hits go with ‘Every Day The Same’ it’s easy to see that the band has shifted away from the sound that they started with. And fair game; no band wants to put out the same album twice unless of course you’re The Amity Affliction, A Day To Remember, Beartooth, Real Friends, Memphis May Fire or Nickelback, among many others.
Whereas ‘…Stay Alive’s predecessor, ‘Run Wild, Young Beauty’ focused on bringing Hotel Books’ sound to a higher and much more intense level, this album seeks to renovate most of their conventions, pushing away from the ambient focal point made popular on their earlier catalogue in favour of big rock choruses and melodic hardcore verses reminiscent of Being As An Ocean and Counterparts. That sounds like an amazing array of influences and sounds because I fuck hard with all of those bands. Yet unfortunately for Hotel Books, those bands do it better. Much better. The choruses on ‘Broke Love’ and ‘Where We Sleep…’ although big with a great sense of depth, can’t help but sound weak and lacklustre; uninspired and flat. There’s something missing when the outro to ‘Friendly Crossfire’ kicks in and it blasts away with Smith hurling guttural words at me. There’s no drama or intensity in the mix that makes me feel tense and overwhelmed. All the instruments and vocals seem so mechanically put together in a way that feels scientific instead of emotive.
I may sound like a complete douche-canoe in saying this, but when I listen to any part of this record I can’t visualise the band members playing these songs. I can’t see them throwing their bodies around or dropping to their knees. I can’t see these songs played on a live stage with the drummer hunched over his kit and I can’t even see Cam Smith contorting his face into a mic as he screams at the crowd. Even on the softer and more ambient sections where the band should be “baring their souls” I feel almost nothing. Listening to this album, I feel the same way a low-level bank employee searching for meaning does after he fucks a hooker he picked up from King’s Cross: cold, empty and vapid with an overwhelming sense of shame and an odd, yet persistent itch in the nether regions.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel this way about ‘Run Wild, Stay Alive’. Though if anything, I think it has to be because the band hasn’t kept that over the top sense of emotion and drama they employed on their past releases. I fucking loved the melodramatic aesthetic this band had. I absolute adored the way Smith would scream and almost sob into the microphone over droning guitars and huge choruses, or the way he would breathe gently and whisper alongside gentle and sparse guitar melodies. I ate that shit up because it was so overdone and overplayed, which allowed for the emotion and aesthetic to still be there after fifty or so listens. (I’m also completely and utterly Tumblr trash and I’m not ashamed of that).
Which is why even after multiple listens only two songs here resonated with me here. ‘Can You Do Me a Kindness’ for its resemblance to the band’s older much more sincere, ambient work and ‘Broke Love’, for much the same reasons in its outro. But even then, nothing on this record hit me with any great sense of passion or feeling in the way that ‘Lose One Friend’ from ‘I’m Almost Happy Here…’ once did.
Man, I’m fucking bummed out. I was looking forward to this record and to having a good cry in my room with my cat but I didn’t even shed a tear nor feel like coming close. I didn’t get the shivers or the goose bumps their music normally gives me. All I got was some big choruses and Cam Smith shouting at me for about thirty minutes – and not in the good way he normally does. Look, ‘Run Wild, Stay Alive’ is a nice album. But it’s nice in the same way that one person in the group chat that will occasionally pipe in with a good meme or a subtle roast. Will you say hi to them in person and make small talk? Sure. Will you actively seek to hang out with them and spend some quality time together? Probably not.
- Every Day, The Same
- I Think You See Where This Is Headed
- Where We Sleep Is Where We Dream
- Constant Conflicts
- Saltwater For Blood
- Friendly Crossfire
- Can You Do Me A Kindness?
- Broke Love