Anybody that’s ever listened to sad music has their “go-to” album in times of distress. For me, it tends to go back and forth between Brand New’s The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me and Dashboard Confessional’s The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most — albums by bands known for their poetic lyricism and emotionally wrought delivery. The newest entry to that registry is Hotel Books, whose emotionally wrought lyricism and poetic delivery quickly made them a hit across the Internet. After years of bleeding out of their hearts and adding textures to their sound, the group’s InVogue debut has arrived. Run Wild, Young Beauty is raw and affecting through every shrieking piece of prose and echoing guitar chord, and it’s begging to add itself to that list of “go-to” sad records.
What originally developed as Cam Smith and a coming-and-going of guitarists has fully developed into the four-piece that Hotel Books is today. Despite putting out a double EP last year, the new album from the band is far improved and feels more prudent than its predecessor. Run Wild, Young Beauty builds on I’m Almost Happy Here, But I Never Feel At Home in its dynamics, with smarter lyrics that build grander connections to Smith’s experiences. That – in addition to the upgraded musical meshing, interesting song structures, and small bit of experimentation – makes this record feel honest and complete.
The first two songs on the disc waste no time in overtaking the listeners with their math and post-rock landscapes. Instead of rising with the chorus, the title track becomes more sonically determined with its second verse, bringing out a strong La Dispute vibe as Smith intensifies his spoken word stories about searching for love. Smith continues to climb on “Constant Conclusions.” Hotel Books’ combination of pristine melodies and morose lyrics fully evolves into a bittersweet flavor. Smith’s passion is enormous when he bursts into screams, and it turns into the album’s most sincerely felt moment (“Every night I lie awake, and I know my heart will break / But what hurts most is knowing it’s happening to you”). The fire continues to spread in “I Died With You,” which takes numerous religious viewpoints within its many lyrics, its most important perhaps in how Smith’s taking of communion reminds him of his own brokenness.
The record’s thematic drive doesn’t slow down from there. While there’s lots to pick out and many parts are highly resonant, the middle patch is almost too much. Tracks like “Nothing Was Different” and “813 Maryland St.” are intimidating selections; even with their crisp guitar plucks and vivid storytelling, they move extremely fast. Still, the in-between song, “Love Life, Let Go,” featuring an anthemic chorus led by Hawthorne Heights’ JT Woodruff, has enough clear vision in its rising and falling action that it ends up being one of the album’s most memorable cuts. The band maintains mindfulness with the heavier “Two Steps Back,” where Smith’s simple wittiness builds enjoyment on the surface, yet reveals complexity underneath in thoughts that bleed outside of the songs themselves. Part two, “Ten Steps Forward,” is an apt closer with its colorful language and deep dwelling on the past and future. It reminds me of early Hotel Books material in sheer connective power, yet throws in melodies and gang vocals similar to label mates Being As An Ocean.
What makes Hotel Books such a rare find is their ability to link with the listener through troubled times and heartbreak; their music has a human pulse as Smith revels in his past, yet weaves a thick web of what we can learn in life, and what he’s come to understand about pain and recovery through other people and through God. It’s a project that’s divisive on the basis that its sadness lies on the surface and may even come off as cheesy or trendy. But more than anything, it’s honest, and we’re thinking too hard if we’re going to overlook that. The true soul and personal journey captured in Run Wild, Young Beauty comes out in each song’s sting. As a whole, this release optimizes its expressive energy. It allows others to join in the examination of Smith’s life as well as theirs, hopefully using it as the background music to their eventual overcoming. And that’s Young Beauty’s true beauty.
Spoken Word/Post-Hardcore | InVogue Records