Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Hotel Underground's introspective lyrics explore life's wrenching moments and carry the banner of resilience and redemption. Expressions of hope, love, fatigue, and failure are captured in vocals that can be rugged and worn or soft and warm. Cantino wears his heart on his sleeve, and listeners should be in a contemplative folk-rock frame of mind to fully appreciate the album.

While Rejoice may not be the CD to amp you for a night of clubbing, it should be on the short list for your next road trip. Whether you're traversing windy and winding Highway 1 along the cliffs of Big Sur or enduring the monotony of a muggy interstate through Kansas, this album will navigate you through hills and valleys, help you keep your eyes on the road, and provide enough catchy licks to keep you awake at the wheel.

It's evident Cantino has spent time in the dark and lonely corners of life, as he testifies in several songs. In "Runaway Train," he falls to his knees to profess shame, regret, and hopelessness. Just when all seems lost, the song launches into a wall of sound and salvation appears. By the end of the song he is blissfully lilting, "Hope is all you need." "Sweet, Sweet Misery" begins with a tired lament of despair, but in typical Hotel Underground fashion, the song transitions into a full-bodied, perfectly in-tune pop anthem. "Rejoice" recounts hitting bottom and learning to find satisfaction with one’s self. "Dust in your pockets and smoke in your lungs. Your time it was up and your song had been sung. You had nothing left, not even your friends…rejoice my friend."

"America" is a plaintive tale of the twisted and vapid American dream, with an extra serving of countrified twang. Cantino turns the lens on society and its futile fumbles towards happiness. The song is reminiscent of Tom Petty, complete with harmonicas and acquiescent reflection. The album also has light and festive moments—"Pour Me a Drink, Sing Me a Song" captures the anticipation and excitement of reuniting with a dear friend and finding solace in each other's company. The enthusiastic vocals are beautifully complemented by Ortega's intricate drumming and Romero's soothing baseline.

Cantino has clearly emerged from a cloud of despondence to reacquaint himself with sunshine, and he’s determined to take his listeners along for the ride. While his sentiments can grow Hallmarkish, his lyrics remain heartfelt and generously peppered with wit. Hotel Underground's Rejoice is a cathartic celebration, and it's a party worth attending. It may take a few spins on your iPod before the album resonates, but it’s cheaper than therapy, and a lot more fun.