Enigmatic, post-rock Texans, Hotel Hotel hide behind confusing pseudonyms like vortex/index, team/odessa, and chaos/trade union, but I have it on good authority that P.D. Wilder and Patrick Patterson may be amongst the culprits who recorded this concept album about the ghost ship, Mary Celeste and its fateful voyage from Galveston, Texas to its (alleged) discovery off the coast of Haiti in 2001. Packaged in a marvellous, die-cut, trifold cardboard digipak, the slow as molasses intro to “From Harbor” saunters into the room with the hesitant expectancy of fellow Austin snorecore agents, Stars of The Lid and Explosions in The Sky. Dual violins add a melancholic touch, yet the melody is bright and hopeful, as the Mary Celeste begins her voyage. An ominous sense of dread and terror envelops the listener as “The Dirac Sea (Lower Tide)” begins, and I’m immediately reminded of Jocelyn Pook’s soundtrack for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, particularly the spooky “Masked Ball” sequence.
As with Windy & Carl, Landing, and label mates, Aarktica, my wife likens the listening experience to hearing a bunch of guys standing around tuning their guitars, so the listener is alerted not to come expecting Top 40 pop, but swirling, soothing, sometimes frightening atmospherics coaxed out of guitars, pianos, and violins. The swelling, sweltering chaotic maelstrom of “Equator In The Meantime” comes with its own parenthetical reference point, “(Black Sabbath),” while the delicate, dare I say, pretty, “The Shoreline Disappeared” finds our crew floating aimlessly, completely surrounded by an ocean-meets-sky horizon, as a lonely piano tinkles out a forlorn melodic motif and a weeping violin suggests something is askew. The album ends with two versions of “The Captain Goes Down With The Ship” (subtitled “(Sinking)” and “(Drowning)” respectively), so comparisons with the Titanic’s fate will also spring to mind as the listener hopefully, yet helplessly stands by as the Captain and the crew are swallowed by the ocean.
This would work as a perfect companion piece to Jonathan Geers’ 2005 debut, “Essex” (which also musically depicted the fate of a sunken ship), but certainly stands alone as one of the year’s strongest releases, regardless of your stance on the ultimate fate of the world’s most famous ghost ship! Fans of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and the late Jason DiEmilio’s Asuza Plane will also be enthralled by these exciting, emotional, at times, heartwrenching melodies and atmospheres. 9/10 -- Jeff Penczak (26 November, 2008)