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Hotel Lights - Firecracker People

Released on Bar-None Records, 8/19/08

When I hear Hotel Lights, I imagine the silhouette of a large, lonely building indistinguishable from its background, except for the dim, yellow light barely escaping its sockets. It’s depressing to think of all the isolated people trapped inside, but the seeping lights somehow give you hope that someone’s surviving. Firecracker People, Hotel Lights’ sophomore effort, is the manifestation of this light, offering that glimmer of hope yet only if you’re willing to pay attention. And the music is just as serene as that picture in your mind. It’s soft and consoling, conjuring up starkly beautiful images but with conviction and soul.

The group is the brain child of ex-Ben Folds Five drummer, Darren Jessee, who has left the skins in favor of an acoustic guitar. Fortunately, Jessee allows Ben Folds to carry on the defunct group's sound as he forages into new territories. Mainly rooted in the acoustic-rock region, Jesse invites longtime collaborator Alan Weatherhead of Sparklehorse fame along for the trip as well as new comers Zeke Hutchins (drums) and Jay Brown (bass). A first listen to the album will make you think Jessee never raises his voice above a whisper, but upon further endeavors the layers unravel and the record’s true beauty is exposed. Like Nick Drake, Jessee can find the pearl in the rough, offering solace during bad times.

The opening song “Blue Always Finds Me” may sound a bit on the downer side of things but as Jessee states almost immediately "it's a beautiful life," admitting that even the worst is worth it. Ben Folds Five fans will rejoice that "Amelia Bright", one of the last songs the group debuted, but never issued a recording of, finally surfaces and it was well worth the wait. Yet, the centerpiece of the album, and its best song, comes from the title track. It represents the emotional peak as Jessee laments “we're all firecracker people/going off all the time.” Perhaps he's right -- there's something reassuring in the uncertainty of it all. And that’s where Hotel Lights shines brightest.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars