If nothing else, the Hotelier should be commended for its focus on making an “album” in an era of single-song streams and Spotify Weekly playlists. Whatever else can be said about Goodness, it carries at least one of the hallmarks of a great album: a through-line of clues that suggest the songs were assembled like a puzzle intending to show a complete picture. The band accomplishes this in a number of ways, some large and easy to pick up on, like the album’s transitional tracks, all of which are named for points of latitude and longitude that refer to pivotal locations in songwriter Christian Holden’s life; others are more subtle and rewarding upon their discovery, like references to the moon and repeated vocal hooks on the album’s emotional bookends, “Piano Player” and “End of Reel.” This attention to detail is what sets apart an album that is merely catchy from something that is worth spending time on to figure out.

Exploration is a central idea to unlocking Goodness, a record that may well stand as the new high water mark for the alternative-emo genre. Of course, judging by how the band tags itself on Bandcamp (to say nothing of its listing on Amazon), one suspects the group might bristle at the mention of the e-word. After all, emo records are traditionally much more clear in their meaning, much more broad in their aims, and Goodness is a record seemingly built around the notion of giving the listener enough to be interested but never enough to fully explain itself. That said, lyrics like “I don’t know if I know love no more” on “Piano Player” or “When this began this was a thing we could both share” on “Goodness Pt. 2,” can only be interoperated so many ways. This is a record that will punch you in the gut if you let it.

The fact that Goodness needs to be let in makes it an anomaly. In interviews leading up to the album’s release, it’s been described as the band’s “love” record and as its most even-tempered to date. The latter is certainly true; the album sustains a certain mid-tempo self-alignment throughout its 13 songs. For a rock record, it’s shockingly short on distorted guitars or especially performative vocals. Everything runs on the driving, gentle drumming, on speedy, strummed clean guitars. Holden’s vocals are equally steady; outside of fleeting moments of shouting on “Settle the Scar” and “Soft Animal” – mixed in such a way to push them to the back of the songs – the album’s mysterious lyrics are delivered in a bright, clean, semi-conversational style. It isn’t an immediately showy record, and when not taken as a whole, it can be difficult to tell which song is which. It is a record that demands attention.

What that attention rewards depends on perspective. A subset of the rock world will hear the poetry (like, a person reading an unaccompanied poem) on album opener “N 43° 59′ 38.927″ W 71° 23′ 45.27’” and immediately assume they know everything there is to know about Goodness. Those people will potentially miss out on a record of great anomaly; an epic that runs less than 45 minutes in time, a deeply personal work that reveals details and hides all element of plot, a mature meditation on emotions that feel immediately true an adolescent way. It is the kind of album that plays once as a curiosity, several times after as an obsession. Ultimately, the answers will come from the individual. It is telling, however, that the record’s uncensored cover is a group of older people, naked and smiling, standing together in a field. Their bodies are sagging, wrinkled, proud and happy. The look like they’ve made it through something. They look content. They look like they’ve survived whatever failures their lives have thrown at them, as if their happiness came as a reward for shouldering lifetimes of great and small sadness. This record feels the way it looks. The Hotelier is telling a story, but it’s an art film, not a blockbuster.

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