ENCORE, PLEASE! Grand Hotel.
There are times when I just can't get Grand Hotel's new self-titled LP loud enough. Not because it isn't recorded or mastered well — it is — but because I'm willing to risk my hearing just a bit in trying to let this album wrap itself around me. I want to live inside it. The spiky guitars, the rippling full-throated harmonies, the raw emotion and heartache combine to make this the kind of record you can listen to dozens of times — maybe in a row.
And while it's tempting to label Grand Hotel a Kyle Gervais vehicle, considering his songwriting and frontman work with the likes of Glory Trap and Cosades, this album evinces a band that is tightly cohesive, working in concert to get a whole that's more than its disparate parts. From the opening "Telephone," in fact, Gervais almost seems to be sublimating his role in the band, singing his first verse through muted distortion following an intro filled with excellently crisp drum sounds (possibly no surprise, as drummer Aaron LaChance produced the record, with help from Noah Cole). And when the chorus launches in, it is a chorus of voices that sing it, doubled over and amplifying one another. It's like the band are emerging from a cave's opening into the bright sunlight of well-crafted alt-rock songs that are filled with pop hooks that make them utterly listenable without seeming to be desirous of commercial appeal.
When Gervais sings "I do things that I shouldn't do/But I am missing my calling," it's enough to make you wonder if this band aren't missing their calling to be the next great radio-rock band. But who even wants to be that anymore?
Much better to just crank out great edgy songs like "Happy," which opens like a Phantom Buffalo tune, with a descending lick from lead guitarist Glen Capen heading into each line of the pre-chorus and then blows your doors off with a chorus that's hard not to yell along to: "All I want to do is make you happy/And all you want to do is hide away." There's even a bridge where Grand Hotel segue into an ironic, vocally muted, all-pop verse, almost mocking today's radio fare, before exploding into a final go-round with the chorus as Gervais has always done so well, as though there's a direct pipeline from his bursting heart to the 'phones wrapped around your head.
The way that Capen and Gervais play off each other is superb throughout the disc (guitarist Michael Reid has since been added to the line-up, relieving Gervais of some rhythm duties live), Gervais's rhythm work subtly lays foundation for Capen's reserved lead work, often grouped into three- and four-note bursts, and rarely moves into what might normally be considered a solo. In "Disillusion," they create a frantic, alt-country vibe as Gervais scatters all over the place and Capen pairs mirrored three-note riffs that set up the song's melodic foundation. Moving into a melancholy shoe-gazer, Gervais sings, "I remember when we were young we used to sing," and you keep expecting a song title or some other finish to the sentence, but that's it — "we used to sing" — leaving the 30-second jam that runs the song out to let you wonder what it is we do now.