The post-rock template of quiet/loud/quiet again applies itself well to the elements. Take a storm, for example. You have the initial brooding, sultry high pressure, the violence of the event itself and a final period of placid calm. And where better to experience the intense fury of nature than in the open ocean? Texan trio Hotel Hotel have taken this idea and run with it. The result is The Sad Sea, an instrumental tale of a journey from Galveston to the bottom of the Caribbean during hurricane season.
As in “event movies” of the huge budget, high fx-count kind, the event itself has to be convincing otherwise, no matter how well staged the rest is, disappointment is inevitable. Unfortunately, this is where The Sad Sea comes unstuck. The two big centrepieces – “Equator in the Meantime” and “Dirac Sea (High Tide)” don’t convey the brutal force of the elements in a sufficiently stirring manner. The former has plenty of crashing cymbals and an organ drone straight out of “The End” by the Doors, but no real sense of violence, and the latter has big drums and fuzz guitar, but gets a bit lost along the way.
It’s a shame – the band are victims of their own concept, really. The scene setting and the post-mortems work very well. “From Harbour” has a folkish lilt to it, with a whiff of the sea shanty about the violin. “Dirac Sea (Low Tide)” has a foreboding ambience about it, and “Mary Celeste” feels genuinely as if all hell is about to break loose, with its building drones and atonal violin that sounds like the tension-screech of stretched rigging.
Post-storm, “The Captain Goes Down With His Ship (Sinking)” has a slo-mo feel to it, like those movie moments when the sound of the surrounding mayhem is stilled to concentrate on the noble demise of a major character. “(Drowning)” with its martial drums sounds both like a military funeral and the big end title theme.
The Sad Sea will certainly appeal to fans of Explosion in the Sky, a band to whom Hotel Hotel with inevitably be frequently compared. It’s a good album, with some very fine atmospheric moments, but doesn’t really live up to the conceit of its concept.
1 From Harbour
2 Dirac Sea (Low Tide)
3 Mary Celeste
4 Equator in the Meantime (Black Sabbath)
5 The Shoreline Disappeared
6 Dirac Sea (High Tide)
7 The Captain Goes Down With His Ship (Sinking)
8 The Captain Goes Down With His Ship (Drowning)
This review also appears on the [SIC] Magazine website.