The angular, intricate, and intelligent compositions of Hospitality signal a sophisticated new pop voice. Singer Amber Papini’s idiosyncratic songwriting and incisive lyrics coupled with the band’s rich arrangements on their self-titled debut explore youth, New York, and the bittersweet commingling of past and present in a way that feels just right, right now.
From the opening phrase of “Eighth Avenue,” guitar hooks are balanced with a cultivated melody. Papini’s singing has a wisp of an English accent via Kansas City (she learned to sing by imitating Richard Butler on The Psychedelic Furs’ Talk Talk Talk) and her lyrics create a moonstruck, even cinematic vision of New York City, where the band formed in 2007. The production by Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells) and band member Nathan Michel (guitar, drums, keyboards), who released his share of experimental “bedroom” pop, culminating in 2005’s The Beast (Skipp/Sonig), imbues the entire record with an intimate yet prodigious sound, layering period keyboards with horns, synthesizers, and treated guitars.
Hospitality the album has an overarching vision and should be listened to as a whole, though every song registers as a single. (Will Merge take a cue from Epic’s Thriller campaign and release seven singles? They should!) “Friends of Friends” could break the Hot 100 with its heavy intro, swingin’ breakdown, and horn riffs; “Betty Wang,” the lynchpin of their live set a few years back, is impossibly catchy, the story of one of Papini’s real-life colleagues at a financial day job; and “The Right Profession” is a power-pop burst of an anthem with Papini chanting the immortal line, “It’s hard to change!” (Isn’t it?) And “The Birthday,” with a sinuous, dissonant lead guitar, the lockstep rhythm of the drums, and Brian Betancourt’s nimble bass, wouldn’t be out of place on The Police’s debut record, but its epic coda makes it decidedly CinemaScope. Hospitality, while hearkening back to ‘70s/‘80s pop—both Elvis Costello and Kate Bush are influences—has an ambitious vision: its big promise is nowhere more evident than on the gorgeous anthem “Julie,” the album’s centerpiece which already sounds like a classic. The song’s lush, glorious build is coupled with lyrics inspired by Papini’s great-grandfather, a Pennsylvania coalminer.
Reprising some songs from a self-released 2008 EP recorded by Karl Blau (K Records) allows Hospitality to nod to its beginnings as a more lo-fi outfit; that early intimacy can be found in the arrangement of the cheeky and distinctly NC-17 “Liberal Arts.” And after patiently honing its craft, playing concerts (and gaining converts), Hospitality has reached what will be its first apex with many more heights to come; from their modest debut in a Red Hook row house, the band has evolved from four-track low-fidelity to a luxury five-star future.
ARMS is what happens when the back burner bursts into flame. A one-time side project transformed into a full band, ARMS synthesizes Todd Goldstein’s years of bedroom experimentation and sharpens them into a single bright blade. ARMS’ full-band debut, Summer Skills, explodes the lo-fi pop of 2008’s Kids Aflame into a widescreen epic, telling a fractured tale of love under supernatural circumstances. Sonically generous and emotionally raw, ARMS’ Summer Skills lures listeners like a siren song and then pulls them into the deep.
Todd Goldstein has been writing and recording songs as ARMS since 2004 — although never quite like this. During his years playing guitar in NYC-based indie rockers Harlem Shakes, Todd quietly self-released his own music as ARMS, sneaking home-recording sessions in his rare spare time. Todd’s first album as ARMS – the luminous, ramshackle pop of Kids Aflame – was released on Melodic Records (UK) / Gigantic Music (US) in 2008 to enthusiastic Internet-praise. When Harlem Shakes disbanded in the summer of 2009, Goldstein expanded ARMS into a full band with the addition of Tlacael Esparza on drums, Matty Fasano on bass / vocals and David Harrington on keyboards / electronics. The group immediately began writing the songs that would become Summer Skills, holing up with producer Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells, Cults, Fucked Up) in Stoneback’s Treefort Studios in Brooklyn.
On Summer Skills, ARMS’ former emotional directness is abstracted and expanded into something more ambitious and ambiguous: a keenly observed fictional universe that shows more than it tells. With Stoneback behind the boards, drums pop and shimmer, analog synths cast audible shadows and ambient clouds glow on the horizon, rendering ARMS’ golden guitar pop something both lovelier and more ominous than before. Todd’s unmistakable baritone is the anchor; it swoops and slides into view, veering between vulnerable, seductive and, maybe, a little bit dangerous. The resulting noise calls to mind the atmospheric clarity of British pop experimentalists like Talk Talk or Kate Bush, with a nod to the minimalist melancholy of Red House Painters and the end-over-end urgency of early REM. But ARMS ‘ noise is all their own, taking the no-nonsense bones of tight songcraft and covering them in shining skin.
Amid the life-or-death stakes of Summer Skills, noses drip kerosene, chill winds blow sweet and razor-sharp teeth gleam in the darkness. It’s this terrain of texture and mood, set among the long purple shadows of August afternoons, that underpins the album’s sequence of haunting moments — little nightmares lit with the blurry shine of dreams. With Summer Skills, ARMS manages the elusive trick of weaving these threads into something both lush and beautifully, painfully alive.
ARMS has had the pleasure of sharing the stage with bands including Walkmen, White Rabbits, Passion Pit, The Love Language, A Place to Bury Strangers, Japandroids, Braids, Hospitality, Caveman, and Asobi Seksu.