Music » Record Review

Hotel Lights' Firecracker People

(Bar/None)

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⇒ Read also: "Former Ben Folds Five drummer Darren Jessee, in New York, on North Carolina"

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Understatement defines the aesthetic of the second Hotel Lights album, Firecracker People. From Darren Jessee's whispered croon—delivered as if he's singing only to himself—to his backing band's delicate, smooth arrangements—given a country tinge by drummer Zeke Hutchins and bassist Jay Brown—the record takes its contemplative time. Firecracker People sounds like sitting barefoot and still, sipping tea, reflecting on little things gone by.

Jessee's hushed voice, stifled as if by Southern humidity, adds narrative clarity to his image-rich thoughts. His attention to lyrical detail seeps into the album's every pore, expertly letting the listener in on his intent: During "Wedding Day," for instance, he whispers to a rainy day and a lost love, "I'm sitting here/ With my coffee cup/ You're waking up/ On your wedding day." His mundane inaction turns to romantic torture beneath a gently strummed acoustic and vapor-light keybords. On "Amelia Bright," a leftover from the last Ben Folds Five tour, he sings softly of a "red '50s dress from a thrift shop nearby."

"Flicker in My Eye" smolders in nostalgia. Among the song's gentle chords, its syncopated drum machine feels slightly out of place, but it matches Jessee's outcast mood: "These arms that once held you/ Like a sunset in the sea." Shimmering cymbal rides finally float through the chorus.

Firecracker People descends through "Run Away Happy." Over its deliberately plucked acoustic guitar, it's as if the North Carolina expatriate offers his goodbye. But it's a fond farewell. Indeed, much like its namesake, Hotel Lights offers soft-spoken, often unassuming company that shines its gentle welcome, as friendly and calm as a front-porch thinker, willing to share a moment, but also keeping its eye on the clock.

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