Copeland- Ixora


I stepped outside my front door into the misting Oxford air, turned swiftly left and looked out across the aged urban landscape. The Christmas decorations were strung up and ready to go but not yet lit—winter was coming quickly, but hadn’t quite arrived. The transition was consuming and overwhelming in scope, as the days became greyer and greyer and the nights began to arrive alarmingly early. The air was so much colder than my Florida-trained lungs were used to harnessing, it expired like smoke into the gloomy early-onset afternoon sky.

In my ears, the isolated, ethereal harmonies and delicately plucked acoustic guitars of “Have I Always Loved You,” mirror the feeling of oncoming freeze. The song is the first on Ixora, the first album from my fellow Florida natives in Copeland since 2008. It accompanies this exit from my apartment for what seems like the billionth time—the sonic equivalent to the first real fall I’ve fully experienced since I was very small. “Have I Always Loved You” begins Copeland’s anticipated fifth outing with astounding vulnerability and fragility from a band whose increasing vulnerability and fragility in the later years of its career have turned it from a great band into an amazing band. As the wind blows my cheeks raw and fills my eyes with liquid, Ixora exudes the beauty of the quickly darkening afternoons of early winter days.

That is, Ixora perfectly represents sonically the feeling of being quietly on the edge of something. Winter so close you can taste it. Love so close you can touch it. Happiness right before your eyes. But still just beyond your reach. Ixora is simultaneously full and sparse, quiet and loud, composed and uncertain—it’s an unbelievable listen from a band who, to date, has yet to fail at besting itself, at creating the absolute best iteration if its sound without losing what made it special in the first place.

“Disjointed” is the perfect representation of this, the clearest progression from 2008’s You Are My Sunshine, while at the same time bringing in the new pillars of Copeland’s songwriting that come into play on Ixora—the traditional slowly unfolding crescendos and pristinely delivered lovelorn lines (“is this the sweetest song I’ve ever heard/you’re singing in your native tongue”) are merged with icy electronics and an undeniable groove. The rest of the album teeters on either side while remaining impeccably uniform all the while. “I Can Make You Feel Young Again” and “Like A Lie” feed on this sense of quiet groove while “Erase” and “Ordinary” deliver the most distinct and fantastic versions of Copeland songs in the band’s discography, proving that they do what they do better than anyone else.

“Erase” is particularly enthralling, its scope gradually blossoming from a lonely piano ballad into an enveloping orchestral affair, with lead singer Aaron Marsh hitting his most haunting falsetto notes just at the most poignant moment, as the orchestra recedes for just a second: “and I can’t help this awful feeling that I can’t erase you.” The silence is washed away in one of the few “crashing” moments on Ixora, as these words are lost among the currents of quivering strings and swirling guitars. “Erase” is a marked accomplishment from an already accomplished band—and it speaks to Ixora’s quality that it never seems to overshadow or feel out-of-place among the rest of the nine songs.

Ixora is quiet devastation, the dull panic of an existentially burdened winter nights. It ebbs and flows but rarely explodes, and its most heartbreaking moments are simultaneously its most relaxing. Take the penultimate “World Turn,” an early Bon Iver-esque reverie that seems to live in a mostly empty, slightly echo-y room with a relaxed Marsh and a causally strummed acoustic guitar. The lyrics reflect this, a wish for quiet isolation in a moment when the everyday motions of your life just seem far too much to deal with: “Now you can feel the world move slow/if you lay down on your back and wait/and suddenly you’re home.” Just as the music lures the listener into serenity, a sleepily performed saxophone emerges but does not startle—instead, it quietly changes the identity of the song from something simply relaxing into something profound. A soft, but important stirring, an unreactive unhinging of everything that’s kept you sane…and a silent struggle to pull it all back together, eyes still closed, as the sax recedes and the song returns to its original state.

Ixora is sad but not hopeless—it’s a representation of the idea that everything in your life can seem to be just perfect and can even actually be going really well, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not still plagued by all of the same insecurities and thorns that have followed you all your life. It’s about realizing that all of the bad in your life will never truly disappear; about clinging to the things that make it all feel better, if only for a moment, whether it be a loved one (“in her arms you will never starve/you will never freeze/and when the world is hard/you can fall asleep there”), an imagined happy place (“a lavender hillside in the sun”), or anything. It’s about not running from these things in search of a nonexistent place where all of the bad stuff is gone (“what if you can’t turn back when you’re finally tired of running?”). It’s about letting yourself be comforted, even if you think you don’t deserve it.

And one of the reasons why Ixora is so amazing is because it can do some of that comforting, it can pull you under with the spectral calm of “Like a Lie” or the full synth underbelly and call-response of “Chiromancer.” Ixora is paradoxically haunting and reassuring—and this is precisely why it is so stunning. On my walks through Oxford with the album, I was simultaneously happier than I had ever been in my entire life and panicked at the implications of that fact. How I may never return to the place I’ve grown to love once I leave in two weeks, or how I may indeed return or find somewhere else that I love and have to be far away from the people I care about. How I feel better than I’ve ever felt here, how much I want that feeling to stay, and how much I fear it won’t. Ixora marks this point of confusion and uncertainty in an astounding fashion. It’s the kind of album that gracefully but surely sinks into your life. It’s the album I needed to hear this year more than any other—and one I’m sure I’ll reach for and need for years to come.

REVIEW: The Hotelier- Home, Like Noplace Is There

The-Hotelier-Home-Like-Noplace-Is-There-e1392687415937Every once in a while, I hear an album that hooks me in because of the way it resonates with the music I grew up listening to. Maybe it reminds me of when I was younger and knew not a damn thing about what I wanted, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to be. Maybe it reminds me of the infinite answers I used to have to those questions, and how free that used to make me feel. How punk music helped me grow and change, made me examine and experience the world in entirely different ways, and how much all of that meant to me.

But it’s been forever since I’ve heard a record that reminds me that I’m still growing up. Massachusetts punk band The Hotelier have created that kind of record.

Home, Like Noplace Is There is a heavy, heartbreaking masterwork. It’s everything emotional punk bands should strive to create in this day and age. From the album’s opening cut, the tense, slow-build “An Introduction To The Album,” The Hotelier’s near-romantic retelling of tragedy and loss in the face of an uncertain future just becomes more and more pronounced and affective; so much so that the final acoustic outro of “Dendron” is a plea for the listener to dive back in and further examine and extract meaning from Home’s nine tracks.

The aforementioned “Introduction” is much more than its title may suggest. As much as this first track lays down the groundwork for an amazing punk album, it serves mostly as a promise from The Hotelier to the listener. “An Introduction To The Album” pulls back the curtains on the damaged and imperfect set upon which the album takes place, and acquaints its audience with its likewise flawed and struggling characters, through which the story of Home will be told: “Open the curtains. /Singing birds tell me ‘tear the buildings down.’/You felt blessed to receive their pleasant sound. /The sound of things that break make you cringe inside yourself.” By the track’s end, these characters are already unraveling, and their true problems and difficulties in their world are revealed and lamented by Christian Holden’s expressive voice: “And the pills that you gave didn’t do anything. /I just slept for years on end.” The track foreshadows the album’s scope as a whole, building from a quieter piano line into a larger pop-punk ballad before finally exploding into a pummeling punk downpour.

Home, Like Noplace Is There keeps and exceeds the promise made by its opening track, and The Hotelier consistently bests itself with each passing number. “The Scope of All of This Rebuilding” is a more straightforward pop-punk song, catchy and engaging enough to perk the ears of any listener not yet enthralled. This second track deals with the often-romanticized right of passage—leaving home. These characters grapple with the task of making their own worthwhile lives outside of their former homes, and appear to be just minutes away from throwing in the towel already: “You cut our ropes, /left the umbilical, /and now I carry around /this weight of broken hope.”

Further down the line, “Your Deep Rest” reveals itself to be the most up-front of the album’s nine tracks, as the narrator deals with the suicide of a close friend. The song appears to be almost upbeat at its outset, but this musical tone is counterbalanced by the blatant lyricism in the chorus: “I called in sick from your funeral. /The sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable.” This song highlights one of the more important aspects of Home, Like Noplace is There. The album, if it’s listened to carefully, is unsettling to sit through. It creates an intense and near-involuntary emotional response. At two or three points during “Your Deep Rest” alone, as the music gets a little quieter and Holden’s voice is a little bit clearer, the reality of these stories and often political sentiments is overwhelming.

This is what sets The Hotelier apart from other bands of its kind, this sense of rawness in nearly every aspect of its work. More than that, though, Home is important because it addresses important topics often avoided or glossed over in today’s musical scene. The chaotic, heavy “Life In Drag” pays direct attention to issues of gender identity and how our society harmfully deals with it; “Among The Wildflowers” tells a story of mental disease and self-image in the context of family history; “In Framing” laments self-harm. These are weighty topics presented in an extremely personal light, and often grounded by hints of easily relatable generalities and details: “I searched for a way out. /Don’t we all?”

The breezy “Housebroken,” in particular appears to be one of the more universal tracks on the album. Veiled in an extended conceit of dogs under the power of their human owners, “Housebroken” tackles the subject of locking oneself behind the walls of societal constraints, and the surrender of freedom for comfort in the world we live in: “Master is all that I’ve got…. /gives me bed, keeps me fed and I’m just slightly nervous /of what I might do if I were let loose, if I caught that mail car or ate garbage for food.”

All of these vignettes are unified in the finality of “Dendron,” which rises and falls in waves of brash and enveloping rock arrangements, just as Holden’s vocal performance admits varying levels of emphasis and pleading, lending special poignancy to a line as simple as “man, I’m sorry every day.” Home, Like Noplace Is There ends in an apologetic and shivering reflection of friends lost, homes broken and societies fundamentally damaging—at last delivering the final, and possibly most emotional and cathartic lines of The Hotelier’s grand performance:

Engraved in the stone

By request and recurse of friends dead is

”Tell me again that it’s all in my head.”

Home, Like Noplace Is There, if the world is a just place, will make waves. This is the kind of album that makes young music-lovers pick up a guitar or a microphone; the kind of album that turns a casual listener into a lifelong fan. It should be what Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends and Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity were to fans in the late 90s and early 2000s. It should rekindle a love for emotional music perhaps abandoned by listeners who perhaps believed they’d grown out of. But most importantly, Home, Like Noplace is There should change lives, should incite a need to be better, a yearning for a world better understanding and more forgiving and flexible. Home reflects the lowest, most hopeless points in the lives of young adults—but it leaves the possibility of change and growth wide open. The Hotelier have set the bar for 2014, not only for punk music or music in general, but for everyone on a personal level. And I think that’s the highest compliment a record can get from me.

NOTE: This review originally ran here in my college newspaper The Minaret.