One Star Hotel's sophomore release builds effortlessly on their stellar haunting Americana debut.
When last we left them in spring of 2003, city scribes from Tom Moon to yours truly were echoing the same sentiment: "Loved the hors d'oeuvres. Can't wait for the main course."
The band's self-titled debut (an EP turned LP) was an eclectic collection of tunes that left fans thirsting for more. There was a minimalist charm to Steve Yutzy-Burkey's lack of vocal range. It slid down dilapidated lyrical passages, wrapping itself around the desperate corridors of redbrick Philadelphia.
Along those corridors, the foundation of One Star's sound began to emerge--haunting, acoustic, never rushing to meet a chorus.
With expectations set on stun, it would've been easy for Yutzy-Burkey and bandmates Daryl Hirsch, Alec Meltzer and Rick Sieber to outgrow their blue-jean britches. It would have been tempting to amp things up a bit, to throw guitar solos in a thousand places they didn't belong, to layer the shit out of every track.
It would've been easy for One Star Hotel to think themselves rock stars.
Fortunately, they did not.
"Other people may have expectations for what this record should be," says Yutzy-Burkey. "I think we put 10,000 times more pressure on ourselves. I'm not saying we were in any way unhappy with the last album. We just wanted to do better this time around."
Good Morning, West Gordon, out Nov. 23 on Stereo Field Recordings, builds upon the band's early strengths without departing from them. It represents the next step in a natural progression--an endearing record that's sullen in all the right places.
"We definitely did our thing here, and we did it in a very organic way," says keyboardist Hirsch. "We wanted to use some very specific sounds and ideas to create this record, and I think we did that. We spent a great deal of time cycling and listening to our demos in order to make sure every part worked. Once that was done, we were able to add a lot of the creative elements you hear in the songs."
Those elements include chirping birds, talking babies and the buzz of morning traffic--each used to paint an urban mosaic of subtle proportions.
"West Gordon was a street in Strawberry Mansion where I worked for a pipe-fitter organ company," says Yutzy-Burkey. "In a very weird way, it helped shape the image we had for the album. It came from the idea of the people I saw every morning along that street, leaving on their way to work or heading to the corner bar."
The title track, like several others on West Gordon, takes a slow and simple approach, placing an equal emphasis on storytelling and instrumentation as core elements in the songwriting process. Mike "Slo-Mo" Brenner reprises his role as resident lap and pedal steel aficionado on three songs, and Darin Kelly checks in on trumpet.
There are moments when Yutzy-Burkey attempts to eclipse his own vocal range, or Hirsch goes slightly overboard on the keys. Take "Thunderhead," a song whose ivory cadence sounds like a mix between the theme from Doctor Who and season one of The Rockford Files.
But these moments are few and far between, and they fail to overshadow the quartet's Dickensian tales of woe.
"We were very fortunate with this album." Yutzy-Burkey says. "We worked with some great people, and we could do pretty much whatever we wanted or needed to do to get it right. I'm really happy with all the methods we used to record it and thankful to all the people who helped us make it happen."
One Star has spent a good portion of the past year on the road and in the studio. With the new record ready for release, and the mini-tour complete, they return to the home stage for a record release show at the North Star Friday. Also on the bill are Buried Beds, Shai Halperin (of the Capitol Years), Future Tips and BC Camplight.
Will this disc be the vehicle that finally lands One Star Hotel a much-sought-after recording contract? Will local radio care enough to get behind them? And what is a Yutzy-Burkey, anyway?
Who cares? It's a damn good record.