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Black Hotels

The Black Hotels – Films For The Next Century

by 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.

Available at Look & Listen, Musica, kalahari.net,
digital downloads are available at www.rhythmrecords.co.za,
Listen and get gig listings on their FB

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  1. idontthinkso says:

    I bought a copy of the album after reading this review and I am very disappointed. I do not hear “an intriguingly catchy album and almost unique in its leanings compared to any South African band right now”, just the same old plodding country-rawk that apartheid-era whites made when believed that they could live the American dream at the foot of Africa. Back in the ’80s any kid with street cred would have called it dad-rock. Why should things be any different now? Will Nathan Zeno refund my R120?

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  2. Andy says:

    Alas Nathan Zeno will not refund your money… However, I salute you for supporting South African music and not simply downloading that album from a friend

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  3. djf says:

    The industry expects us to pay 120 bucks for 30 minutes of music? No wonder the kids have taken to illegal downloading with such fervour. Still, I’m happy that someone at mahala is reviewing local product, even if we agree to disagree.

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  4. caveat emptor says:

    the industry also expects us to pay that sort of money for albums that souind like shit.

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  5. Nathan Zeno says:

    idontthinkso, um, you know what, I totally thought the album was average and nowhere on first listen, then it got stuck in y head and I had to listen again. So maybe give it another shot. but seriously. My taste in music veers a little to country anyway, or at least the alt country sound that’s been evolving for a while, which is why i put those references in there, if you like those bands I mentioned then you’ll like Hotels. if you’ve never heard of those bands, you probably made an impulse buy because I’m such a shit hot writer who spellbounded you with my words.

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  6. Tara says:

    idonthinkso: not that i get turned on by the album, but what kind of a guy gets publicly upset because their taste doesn’t correspond with everybody else?

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  7. Anonymous says:

    bunch of nuts – great band and music.

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