Given the lengthy run-up to its release—spanning over four months from its initial announcement—The Hotelier’s third album, Goodness, could have easily fallen victim to hype of its own making. The group’s last album (and first under The Hotelier name, rather than the original Hotel Year) Home, Like No Place Is There took people by surprise, but Goodness carries with it the weight of expectation. The Hotelier didn’t singlehandedly legitimize pop-punk and emo, but it is one of the first bands of that ilk to get the endorsement of playing Pitchfork’s music festival. It’s why, when the record opens with bassist-vocalist Christian Holden quietly reading a poem, Goodness crushes all preconceived notions in a few short stanzas.
If it sounds pretentious to open an album with a spoken word track, it’s because The Hotelier isn’t afraid to toe that line. There are three interludes on the record, each one named after a set of coordinates that land in desolate locations across the northeast. The first sees Holden establishing lyrical themes, with the subsequent breaks featuring sung variations on “I See The Moon.” It’s a clever framing device on The Hotelier’s part, as it gives the album a decidedly grandiose feel despite Goodness not reaching 50 minutes. On first pass, those interludes can seem superfluous; after a while, they begin to feel like necessary pieces of a larger whole.
Their worth is proven as soon as “Goodness Pt. 2” kicks in. If it wasn’t for Holden’s hushed words preceding it, the track wouldn’t hit nearly as hard. “Goodness Pt. 2” also comes to represent the album as a whole, as each member’s part seems wildly disconnected until two minutes in, when the band suddenly brings order to the chaos. Gone are the grabby, pop-punk machinations that made Home so immediate, but Holden’s knack for instantly memorable choruses remains in tact.
What’s also noticeable on “Goodness Pt. 2”—and becomes a motif throughout the record—is how high in the mix the drums are seated, with every whack from Sam Frederick resonating deep in the speakers. It’s an odd choice, but one that makes more sense as the record plays, and Frederick is found offering drum parts just as memorable as any guitar riff. Whereas Home was based around Holden’s yelping vocals and impassioned lyrics about death and loss, Goodness brings the rhythm to the forefront, making the band’s heartbeat the driving nature of its songs.
All of these things—the interludes, the strange mix, the newly refined sound—are elements that could alienate a listener, but it’s hard to imagine Goodness playing any other way. “Piano Player” and “Settle The Scar,” two songs that could have easily been slotted on Home’s track list, are aided by subtle, strange production choices. “Piano Player” opens with some massive riffing, but the song’s volume slowly decreases. Everything takes on an airier, distant quality, as if being heard from the other end of a drainpipe. Then, after allowing for comfort to be found in this strange new sound, The Hotelier crashes back in louder than before. Similarly, “Settle The Scar” inserts discordant drum loops in its bridge that serve as an off-time interjection to Frederick’s stable drumroll. Not only are they two of the poppiest songs on the record, they’re arguably the most ambitious.
What makes Goodness feel like a true album instead of just a very good collection of songs is how much all of these aspects establish a mood from which the band never breaks. Starting with album’s controversial cover art, to its odd production, to songwriting that rewards repeat listens, Goodness doesn’t have a feature that seems inconsequential. Though they don’t bleed into one another, every song feels linked to what came before it, making each movement essential to the album’s whole. It’s a record that, by its end, is a profound statement. It just requires a little patience for it to be heard.