“I could hear everything, together with the hum of my hotel neon…” – Jack Kerouac
One of the privileges of being on this journey of musical discovery over the past five years or so has been to witness first hand the trajectory of emerging artists from their tentative beginnings to their creative peak, and one of the most satisfying among these has been Hotel Neon. What began in 2013 with brothers Michael & Andrew Tasselmyer, some inexpensive equipment, and a little inspiration from Jack Kerouac has blossomed into a vital trio (multi-instrumentalist Steven Kemner joined in 2015) that is doing some real heavy lifting in the field of ambient & electroacoustic music.
From the perspective of the outside observer at least, some of the keys to Hotel Neon’s success would seem to be an extraordinarily clear vision of their sound from the very outset, a commitment to avoid repeating themselves, an intense work ethic, and persistent efforts to cultivate a sense of camaraderie with fellow artists as well as their audience. All of this has translated into a series of albums each of which becomes essential listening as soon as it released. This travelogue features the last two most recent full-length records, the brand new Vanishing Forms and last year’s Means of Knowing, both available on Agustín Mena’s outstanding Archives imprint.
Means of Knowing
After their deeply introspective Context (2017, Fluid Audio), the band turned outward both thematically and creatively. With a keen focus on the world around them and collaborative studio support from Matt Kidd (aka Slow Meadow) and Rafael Anton Irisarri, they reached new plateaus of depth and nuance on Means of Knowing. This is still very much introspective music, mind you, but the album’s whole ethos is about exploring connections with natural surroundings, so much so that the guys even joked that this was their “walk in the woods” album.
“Means of Knowing is an exchange with the world, an effort to know it and ourselves more deeply. Like a long walk on a favorite path and the introspection and observation that such a journey inspires, it is an album full of constantly evolving interplay between natural and imagined sound sources. Tactile sounds from the physical world combine with textured, processed synthesis to evoke the depth of experience available to us every day.” – Hotel Neon
Self-deprecating humor aside, there is a decidedly stronger presence of field recording elements on Means of Knowing and an especially verdant, sylvan quality to these perfectly weighted drones that indeed feels very organically connected to nature while modern classical underpinnings and patient melodic structures are woven into the fabric of the sound with extraordinary grace & subtlety. The fact that none of this ever feels forced, rushed, or contrived just makes it all the more welcoming.
Ambient music at its most compelling does much more than simply evoke an atmosphere. It quietly removes all barriers to complete immersion and opens pathways for the listener to form connections with their own experience. Hotel Neon not only understands and embraces this, but Means of Knowing is a testament to the fact they are now able to do it as well as anyone.
Means of Knowing is available from Archives or directly from the band in limited 12″ 2xLP vinyl edition (black or clear) or on CD (2 discs). The editions feature artwork by Steven Kemner and photography by Alexander Kopatz (go70north.com).
For their encore release on Archives, Hotel Neon escorts us from the sun-dappled forest floors of Means of Knowing into the vast, empyrean realms of Vanishing Forms. In some ways the album brings the band back full circle to the dense, crepuscular drones of their self-titled debut, but with an even greater depth of field and the patient assurance born of their growing mastery of the sonic domain they have hewn for themselves out of empty space.
Vanishing Forms seems very much about balance – the balance between shadow & light, ballast & float, stillness and motion. Put on the headphones, press play, and time stops as the ebb of the music’s deep oscillations brings you to the shoreline of an inner ocean under a canopy of night. Sound moves in slow convection cycles while undulating shapes take form, disperse, and reappear. With each accretion, whatever you might have been thinking about before you started listening drifts further and further away and the beautiful hum of Hotel Neon just goes on and on…
Vanishing Forms is now available on limited edition CD (120 copies) and digital download as well as a vinyl LP edition directly from the band (250 copies). The album features design by band member Steven Kemner and artwork by Dalvin Byron.