East Village

Hotrod Hotel

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East Village were in an interesting, some would say impossible, spot in the late '80s. The quartet were too indie and sweet to be mass popular, too smooth and classic to be embraced by the happily insular post-C-86 crowd. Their songs were bathed in jangling guitars, 12-string leads that a tie-dyed-in-the-wool folk-rocker would be glad to call their own, and vocal harmonies as rich as freshly churned cream. They didn't make a ton of waves at the time and they didn't last long before splitting, only issuing a handful of singles and one posthumous album, Drop Out, but their music proved to be as timeless as many of the bands (like the Byrds, Orange Juice, and Aztec Camera) that influenced them. Slumberland's 2020 collection Hotrod Hotel is an updated version of a collection with the same name that Summershine released in 1994, and it's a treat for anyone head over heels in love with perfectly arranged, confidently strummed, and beautifully sung guitar pop music. Wedge any song here next to a song by the Loft, the Servants, the early Commotions or Edwyn Collins, or the Jasmine Minks, and it would hold its own -- some might even attain classic status. The aching beautiful "Cubans in the Bluefields" certainly qualifies; the mini-epic "Her Father's Son" does too. "Strawberry Window" is their quintessential song, mixing all the elements of their sound like a perfect cocktail and featuring a chorus that soars like a schoolkid in the throes of their first crush. The collection gathers up these songs along with nine more as it traces the band's earliest days. Both of their 1988 singles for Sub Aqua are here, as well as many demos recorded the following years and a track recorded for Drop Out but never used. It's a peacefully thrilling listen, the sharp emotions of the lyrics and insistent punch of the melodies smoothed out by the lush embrace of the guitars and the tenderness of the vocals. In keeping with the sharp design of their original releases, the packaging of the collection is beautiful, the remastered tracks sound crystal clear, and the liner notes do a fine job detailing the group's history. It's a reissue done right, and East Village should be proud that it exists. Fans of the band, and of sophisticated guitar pop, should also rejoice at the chance to (re)discover one of the best under-the-radar groups of the late '80s.

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