Hurts So Good: Hotel Books Album Review

“It’s not about being there for me, it’s about respecting me enough to tell me why you’re not. So I’ll just slip back into my sleep,There’s a demon in my casket and I think that we’ve fallen in love, and most nights, I wish it was you.”– Lose One Friend

Hotel Books is a lesser known spoken word, Indie rock, post-hardcore band that started in 2011. Originally a solo spoken-word project based in Porterville, CA started by the band’s vocalist and poet Cam Smith. Im Almost Happy Here, But I Never Feel At Home was released In July of 2014 after the band was signed to InVogue Records and was the first album released as a full band. The album was received extremely well in the Alt music community, earning the band ninth place on the Billboard Alternative New Artists chart. They have since released two more albums in 2015, Everything We Could Have Done and Run Wild,Young Beauty, and are rumored to be working on new music at this very moment. Though some have said they are just a wannabe La Dispute, these people are clearly deaf.

The only similarity between the bands being that they both focus highly on the spoken word, and are somewhat faith based. Cam Smith’s poetry is equal in passion, but the styles of the two writers are completely different. La Dispute is also bit harsher than Hotel Books musically, featuring heavier drums, and rhythm guitar while Hotel Books is way more laid back, dream like, with a overall chill vibe. I guess a good way to put it is that La Dispute is a good soundtrack for Angry Crying while Hotel Books is good for Depressed Crying.

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(GIF: media.tenor.co)

Not to mention that Cam’s voice both physically and poetry is very much his own. His tone coupled with impeccable diction makes it easy to pick out every syllable, of every word, in every song. But, Be warned, the intense emotion within his voice and lyrics can cause uncontrollable physical reactions, such as audible gasps, sighs, and “ahh’s” coupled with goosebumps ranging from a few limbs to the entire body. It might just be the english major in me, but with his lyrics you would have to be a robot to not even feel a little bit of an emotional connection.

The fifth song of the album “Dreaming or Sinking,” takes the listener throughout Cams thought process. There is almost a basic story arch reflecting in the phases of the poetry and music. Starting off with long stretched out high electric guitar notes, mixed with a haunting finger plucking melody setting a vibe of complexed emotions. Then Cams voice enters the mix adding to the haunting feeling of the track with the perfect amount of Reverb. “That’s why I feel like I’m going to die./Cause she kept a part of me close by and I liked it the best I can. /And now that I know who I used to be it’s hard to be happy with who I am. ” The phrases rhythm matching perfectly with the background music easing the listener into a journey of self discovery. Using the depressing and universal feeling of not liking yourself, that brings out the former emo kid in all of us. After we are about a minute and forty in to the journey the tone starts to get more intense; the guitar picking adding some more minor notes resonating with the soft bass in the back. “A sense of salvation/But also an element of bitter hope/To cope with the rope that was tied around my neck.” The moment his words speed up so does the music, guitar starting to overpower Cams voice so he has to scream to be heard. Then once we get to the emotional high point of the song: “And my past would fight with me hoping I would find truth, /But it’s never a good idea to start a fight with a man who has nothing to lose,/And I’m empty.” the intensity instantly drops, and the music fades until all we here is Cam’s voice echoing the last line. “And I don’t know what love is./But I’m growing.” The resolution.

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(Photo: Genius.com

This story like arch is used for most of the songs on the album and can be seen as both a weakness and a strength. The strength being that Hotel Books songs can easily be picked out as there’s, and the flow of the album is almost effortlessly. The weakness being that they run the risk of all there songs sounding the same. As we get closer to the end of the album we do see some variety to this formula. “Lungs” the tenth song on the album has the music leading the words instead of the words leading the music, and features way more percussion than their other songs. The Chill vibes of their highly used, slightly psychedelic guitar riffs masking the gruesomeness of the first line “Scream hallelujah until you cough up blood.” The music overpowering Cams voice at points, to make it sound like he’s fighting, “then those maps of tangled lines became our footprints and sinking sand/were being washed away by ways of trusting each other to feel complete/but we came up short until we both felt alone and empty with no breadcrumbs laid down to lead us back to safety.” adding to the lyrics. The interludes between stanzas only adding to the foreshadowed high point. Getting to hear the soft-scream lyrics your inner scene queen hoped for, keeping the intensity till the end. Leaving us with one last emotional: “I tore out my lungs,” before the minor guitar riff takes over and fades out, to a “wow” uttered softly under your breath.

The familiar light guitar melodies lead into the finale of the album, “Car Crash”. This song features the most lyrical complexity really showing off Cams poetic skill. There is little instrumental, wanting you to focus on the words, featuring normal poetic devices such as alliteration, repetition, and allusion to christianity. “Followed by two seconds, the longest two seconds I’ve ever experienced of lying to myself, lying to my God and lying to you.” During their live performances they always end on this song. Cam stepping off the stage and having the crowd circle around him, inviting them to live in his experience. The normal ark happens, or at least thats what you’re led to believe. After the lines “And I taught myself how to forget that sometimes life will try to convince you there’s such a thing as regret/But I found it to be a lie, the same lie I found when I looked in your eyes after it was said and done.” there is a long pause with nothing but silence leading you to believe that the song is over, but out of nowhere they come in with this unexpected crescendo of passion, “Scream hallelujah until you come alive, the devil came for our lungs but he left with our love/Scream hallelujah until you come alive, I inhaled this world for so long that I tore out my lungs.” connecting to the previous song “lungs”. Tieing it all together, and leaving their audience not just crying, but sobbing.

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(GIF: mashable.com)

Every Song is so masterfully constructed it was almost impossible to pick three I wanted to focus on, let alone an overall favorite. Every song in the album comes together even though they seem to tell a different story. Though the quality of recording is professional, this album live is the best way to experience Hotel Books. The overall vibe is just so unique, and is kinda like group therapy. Everyone is there in one room and all feeling the same thing, and in that moment everyone is connected through their shared emotions. Sometimes it becomes so overwhelming that Cam has to stop and take a moment to either breath or cry and the audience is there crying with him and encouraging him to feel it out. Sometimes you just need to be sad, and every song just hurts so good. So if you’re into poetry, and the alt-rock music scene I suggest you give hotel books a listen. Even if they’re not really your style I suggest you still go see them live if you get the chance, the experience is totally worth it.

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