By Al Kaufman
Girl Graffiti is so full of hushed tones that when the band finally breaks into the mildly upbeat “Dave Sharkey to the Dance Floor,” (with its “Sweet Jane” guitar intro) it feels like an all out frenzy, albeit the most reserved frenzy in music history.
Darren Jessee, the brain child behind Hotel Lights, works like Vincent Van Gogh. He adds layer upon layer of colors, until his canvas strains under the saturation. But while Van Gogh used bright colors, Jessee prefers pastels. His songs are more like a two-day-old helium balloon, struggling to stay aloft on an overcast day. The balloon is beautiful in its plight. More often than not, Jessee’s balloons win in their fights against gravity.
“Super 8MM,” with its twinkling piano and swelling strings, recalls Ben Folds at his most sensitive, which only makes sense since Jessee, a multi-instrumentalist, used to drum for Ben Folds Five. The story centers around a boy who loves the girls that wants to leave the small town. The boy’s gentle pleas are things of poetry. “This old town is for dry cleaners and violinists and street sweepers and dreamers like us,” he insists. But to no avail. The girl leaves. Perhaps if he had used more passion the girl would have stayed, but that is not really Jessee’s style. He is a man that will never need worry about straining vocal chords. Yet his quiet, shoe gazing style warmly compliments his richly layered arrangements. Its the cup of cocoa after putting on the footie pajamas and sitting by the fire.
But Girl Graffiti will not lull the listener off to sleep.”Through the Crowd” offers up some cheery synth lines and a slightly more sonic sound. On “My Pretty Quirk,” drummer Zeke Hutchins actually pounds out a beat with some force for a change. And while the guitar amps may not be turned up to 11 on the song, they are at least set to the point of feedback potential. “All My Asshole Friends,” complete with horns, has a fuzzier quality to it, like Wilco during their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot era. Like Wilco at their best, the song is biting and somewhat comical, but controlled; always controlled.
It would be easy to say that Girl Graffiti lacks passion. But like the best indie bands, Hotel Lights keep their passion so tightly wound that they only let it leak out in wonderfully pristine quantities, like carbon when compressed into diamonds.
Hotel Lights play Vinyl Friday, September 9.