The beginning of a fresh new year seems like the perfect time for a brand new band to release their debut album. But Strange Hotels new six track EP, Mixtapes, defies what you’d expect from a new band- it has the polish and shine that usually comes from more experienced bands. That’s because the duo, consisting of multi-instrumentalists Ben Braden and Nick Sadler, has been playing together for years as part of one of Portland’s iconic touring bands, The Lower 48. Their new project, Strange Hotels, is a departure from the harmony-driven rock of the Lower 48. Strange Hotels style is hard to pin down, spanning from disco to world beats, with a consistent danceability that inspires booty shaking, dancing, and smiles. Their diverse influences include Prince, The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, St Vincent, and Sylvan Esso, but I also hear a touch of Michael Jackson and Hall & Oates.
Ben and Nick have both put out solo albums over the past several years, and helped each other with those albums. In an informal interview, Ben Braden explained that Strange Hotels has turned into the most collaborative thing they have ever done. Beginning with about 20 ideas, they boiled it down to the six best tunes, which also happened to be the most collaborative ones. In the first track, Ring Ring, Ben wrote the verse, Nick wrote the chorus. In Bad Intentions, Ben wrote the lyrics and Nick wrote the melody. He says that “it’s been so collaborative that it gets foggy.”
Listening to these recordings makes me wonder how they are going to pull this off with two people in a live setting. Ben explained that they are going to experiment, playing a lot of regional shows in the next few months. Nick will play drums and synth pads and sing, and Ben will play the guitar and sing, using a pedal to play bass notes with his feet. Whatever they do, it’s sure to be worthwhile because after years of touring they have a good idea of how to entertain an audience.
The next thing that defies expectations for this new duo’s debut is that the album was entirely recorded on an iPad Air. Braden shared his thoughts on this subject saying that “musicians are poorer than ever but can do more with basic equipment and that this is a really interesting time for inspired artists.” He added that “the songs are informed by the technological and sociopolitical craziness of the world”, and that they “didn’t set out to write about cell phones, but the theme seems to appear on every song. The songs are about how fast the world is changing.”