The Black Hotels – Films For The Next Centuryby Nathan Zeno / 27.08.2009
On some levels The Black Hotels can be a more whimsical version of The Decemberists, on others they are a rockier Belle and Sebastian. It’s a charming mix of jangly indie sounds and harmonies without ever veering too close to pretentiousness lyrically. If Films For The Next Century suffers for anything it’s length, coming in at just over thirty minutes, it’s over before it gathers any momentum.
John Boyd and Lisa Campbell’s voices work well together and combined with the excellent production give FFTNC the feeling that it was made on the East Coast of America. This works both for and against them, on one hand making them instantly accessible to fans of that Alt Folk Rock sound but also setting themselves up to be compared to the bigger bands in that scene.
There are four tracks on FFTNC that seem to be totally of and by The Black Hotels and they are every reason to own this album. ‘Someone Stole The Light’ opens and announces all their elements at once, orchestral build ups, sweet harmonies, wry lyricism, frenetic bass and an instant sing alongability. ‘Stone Wife’ is no less upbeat (Thankfully The Black Hotels are never enthusiastically upbeat) but is more varied in his troughs and peaks. ‘Lost In Waterfalls’ explores the same acoustic jangliness but brings the swelling keyboards more assuredly to the fore. ‘Underwater Me’ is a dreamy build up that evokes, but is never derivative of, early Mazzy Star.
On FFTNC you can hear a band finding their sound. It is an intriguingly catchy album and almost unique in its leanings compared to any South African band right now. If anything it makes me secretly optimistic about the prospect of more. The Black Hotels are cautiously exploring musical territory that can only reap greater benefits. By no means does this mean FFTNC is in any way disposable, on it’s own it is a solid debut, but on certain levels it does feel more like a teaser to a much better album to come.