By Max Johns
Were it not for a single retweet from DARTZ (@coolrockband, great handle) after Ellis was released, I may never have heard of Dunedin band L. Hotel. And that would have been my loss. So if they're new to you, don’t feel bad - just prepare to be impressed.
Piecing together a few scraps from the internet, mostly Otago Uni’s Critic mag, here’s what I can tell you about the group: There once was a band called The Shitz (great name) which some time around 2020 morphed into L. Hotel (less great name, absolute nightmare to Google, I’m tempted to post this review on TripAdvisor just to really fuck with the algorithm).
As L. Hotel, Jono Everts (guitar/vocals) Dave Borrie (bass) and Fred Richardson (drums) worked to build a reputation as a live band, mostly playing in Dunedin. Campus pint nights, basement parties, that sort of thing. Solid plan, except for covid. The next year, 2021, they were promising an EP “soon”. Then the trail goes kinda cold. Ellis, presumably, is a late delivery.
Not that this is their Spotify debut. Four singles came out over 2020 to 2022, beginning strongly with an attractive bit of indy pop called Sit Around and ending with their version of 'See Ya, See Ya Later'. Yes, kiwi kids, we’re talking about the goodbye song that Suzy Cato sang at the end of every episode of ‘You and Me’. There’s bound to be a backstory, or at least an in-joke, there somewhere but I lack the patience and the Google-fu to find it.
So now you’re mostly caught up. Oh, except that somewhere along the line Mitch Sizemore joined the band and now L. Hotel are a foursome. But enough of this poorly-assembled backstory. Let’s talk about the new EP, and why you should listen to it. In the band’s words, “Ellis is about relationships, perspective, and not taking yourself too seriously.”
The first comparison that struck me was another Dunedin outfit, Two Cartoons. Jono Everts’ kiwi-az singing voice is a big part of that, but there’s more to it. Two Cartoons’ self-administered tagline, “pop disguised as rock”, could easily apply here. L. Hotel’s rock disguise is a little heavier but the music is still angular and inventive. More than that, it’s good for dancing and singing along. You can easily picture those U-Bar pint nights and Dunedin basements going off long into the night.
There have been truckloads of ink spilled about the place but it boils down to this: North Dunedin keeps the outside world at arm’s length. It’s home to a lot of smarter-than-average people who know how to kick back and have a good time, and that’s a social recipe for music-making unmatched anywhere else in NZ. All of this is on record here. 'Take Me For' is the party-starter, 'Let Me Down' is a more thoughtful piece of work, 'Scared of the Dark' makes the most of the dual-guitar line-up and is the strongest track, and closer 'Vest' is a straight-forward rocker that’s leading the play-count on Spotify by quite some distance.
Ellis has taken a few years to emerge, and it doesn't look like the band is putting a huge amount of promotional effort in, but it deserves an audience. Lend it your ears and spend a quarter hour or so reassuring yourself that our one-and-only university town has still got the goods.