Dedicate five minutes to searching for information about Ghost Hotel online, and no matter where you turn, that self-imposed description will more than likely be accompanying whatever it is you are looking at. The explanation isn’t entirely false; as the group’s recent LP, “Do You Feel It,” suggests, this sugar-coated quintet does indeed love their fair share of melodrama, bedrooms and some pretty great indie rock (assuming your taste expands to both the synth-y side of The Postal Service and the rockier side of The Smiths). Actually, the only real problem with that first sentence is its lack of potential. Because if these 10 songs are supposed to be an indication of how much of it Ghost Hotel have, it’s clear that these guys will be headed toward Such Great Heights as long as they continue to understand that Work Is a Four-Letter Word (sorry, it’s just too easy!).
All bad puns and double entendres aside, this Frederick-based group knows what its doing. From the opening chords of “The Stars (An Apology)” all the way up to the final seconds of the delightful a cappella harmonies found in “A Banner Year,” “Do You Feel It” is a mish-mash of what all great indie pop should be: bright, layered, moody, inescapable and pragmatic. To think that these guys are just getting started isn’t a mere reflection on expectation any more than it is a proclamation of arrival. If Ghost Hotel is a five-star resort, this record suggests that it should take months to find an open room.
The best moments come when half of the band’s singing section, Alison Crawford, takes center stage to flutter her innocent pipes like a butterfly through tall grass on a sunny summer day. “All Day Ocean” is AM radio bliss, complete with a simplistic drum pattern and picturesque backing harmonies. Rounding the track out is an exquisite use of what sounds like a mandolin during its bridge, accentuating the laid-back feel right before a brilliantly placed trumpet pops up to bring the whole thing home.
The second jab of this one-two punch, “Theme From the Ghost Hotel / Interlude,” is unquestionably the most memorable song of the bunch as it becomes increasingly clear that a stripped down formula serves these guys wonderfully. Here, Crawford plays the pretty-vocals card to perfection while her best Jenny Lewis impression bleeds into something more akin to Michelle DaRosa, formerly of the short-lived Straylight Run, now of the Boston-based Destry. Better yet is the tenderness of an acoustic guitar backdrop that adds far more sincerity than it does pretension. Mix in another bed of trumpet on which the singer’s voice can confidently lie, and what you have is a result thick with success.
Oddly enough, what takes Ghost Hotel to the next level is their secret weapon: Sam Paxton. A perfect match for Crawford’s harmless harmonies, the yin to her yang clearly loves his Death Cab for Cutie records, and in this case, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. “O, Adelaide!” runs on his unassuming crooning with electronic drums serving as the banana-seat bike both singers seemingly love to ride. The best song never played on 1986 college radio, it’s a strikingly fun blast to a time when R.E.M. hadn’t yet lost their religion and Morrissey still had a first name. “We Are Real,” meanwhile, takes the same formula and adds a bit of Edge-style-guitar to the party, completing the journey from small clubs on the back roads of Georgia, all the way to the largest stadium standing in Ireland.
Only when Ghost Hotel lose the subtlety does this set suffer. “Hands” is too blatantly simple to work, and the inexplicable pounding of a consistent kick drum through its verses places too big a hindrance on the song’s feel to overcome. “Simple Fiction” is better, but an otherwise unavoidable groove is overshadowed by an unfortunate mixing job that leaves a distorted guitar too loud and an insanely excellent chorus vocal too quiet.
All missteps are forgiven, though, when you take a step back to realize how novel the entirety of the record is when held up against its local music brethren. It takes a distinct level of confidence and talent to pull off the whole guy/girl thing, but Ghost Hotel do it better than well. “Do You Feel It” is a revelation in ability and a celebration in execution. Sure, “Sexy melodramatic indie bedroom-pop from Frederick, MD,” might be apt in describing these guys, but it certainly doesn’t do them justice. “Sexy melodramatic indie bedroom-pop from Frederick, MD, that is ready to take over the world,” however …
Well, let’s just say that somebody might want to turn the “No Vacancy” sign on soon. The rooms in this place should be filled with admirers long before one is able to utter the words “Holiday” or “Inn” ever again.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***