2020 and 2021 have brought us a slew of pandemic albums, often recalling loneliness and isolation. However the Melbourne raised New York based producer/ songwriter Chet Faker had a different idea, releasing a collection of feel good songs to counteract the darkness with his sophomore album ‘Hotel Surrender’.
I have loved Chet’s music for many years now. I used to have his ‘Thinking in Textures’ album on repeat. I’m Into You always brightened my mood. His No Diggity cover flipped the song in a way that was uniquely his own. I still love the music video to Gold, which, in turn, inspired me to buy a pair of skates. Talk is Cheap was the very first song I heard from Faker, as I’m sure it was for many of us. All of these songs and much more of his work still find their way into my playlists to this day.
Around 2016 he dropped the moniker Chet Faker, releasing work under his birth name Nick Murphy. However, after spending his lockdown in a small New York studio, he set out to produce happy tunes as a beacon of light during such bad times.
“I just remember looking at it in a playlist and just being like, ‘Ah, shit, this is a Chet Faker album.’ It just sort of showed up and I had a decision to make – do I put this out?”
He says on his choice to bring back the Chet Faker brand.
And from this, ‘Hotel Surrender’ was born.
The album begins with Oh Me Oh My. String pads and a driving drum beat play over a spoken word reading by Chet, as he repeats “music does something”. I don’t really know how to explain it, but the song just feels good. The song is comforting and mood lifting. “End the day with a healthy sigh, I’ll sleep when I die”. Seemingly about living in the moment, the song keeps you present, appreciating what you have. A cool bassline opens Low over atmospheric sounds. He throws a few unexpected and disorienting sounds into the mix, like a plucked off-key guitar string. Choir-like vocals come together to sing the main hook of the song; “Just because I feel low right now. It doesn’t mean all that I’ve got has run out”. He repeats this, a mantra that a period of low mental health is exactly that; temporary. “I think you got purpose. I think you got song”.
Jazz/soul style piano opens Get High. The song’s production is somewhat jarring, yet inviting, in it’s off-kilter production. He sings about all the things he wants, representing the longing we all feel during the pandemic. The lyrics of the song changes as it progresses, mainly in the pre-choruses. “Just because I cry, doesn’t mean I’m not strong” changes to “Just because I cried, doesn’t mean I’m strong”, expressing the changing mental health during the lockdown period. He samples a delivery driver telling him to come down to collect a package, pulling the listener out of the isolated thought process, much like an unexpected visitor would after being left alone with your thoughts for so long.
Whatever Tomorrow is rich on textures, namely with its strong, resounding bassline and powerful string pads. “Whatever tomorrow, whatever that means” he repeats throughout. This song seems to dictate a rougher time in his isolation period; analysing how tomorrow seems so far away, yet everyday feels exactly the same. The bass is another standout feature in It’s Not You, a song detailing a complicated relationship where Chet is not sure where he stands. The music strips back as he sings “So you told yourself at night to remember, that it’s enough but it’s not the best”. It seems his partner is not as into the relationship as he is. “I’ll find a way… to be my very best. And I’ll find a way for us to still be friends” he sings, representing that he wants to love this person regardless of how they want the relationship labelled, even if it hurts im. The track also features a horn section, adding to the textural complexity of the record. If you let me love, let me do my very best.”
The theme of relationships and human connectivity is continues on Peace of Mind. “Lie down flowers. Low lights and quiet rooms. It won’t stop growing on my peace with you” he sings each chorus. The chords and chord changes are very soul-inspired, moving with his vocals. Sultry and seductive, Feel Good opens with “Why so pretty? I’m watching you really”. The song celebrates the good feelings of attraction and admiration. And, much like the title suggests, it simply just feels good. The brass section returns, adding to the overall groove of the tracks production. This is one of the highlights of the album.
“What have you done to me? Looking that good.” he sings to open I must be stupid. The emotion of this song shifts compared to the rest of the album; representing the foolish behaviour and the things we overlook when we are really into somebody. The song is piano-driven, supported by a simple, slow beat and minimal production, focusing on the way Chet was feeling. The instrumentation becomes jarring and disoriented when the chorus hits, with arpeggiated cello and out of place guitar licks, demonstrating how difficult these feelings are to navigate. His vocal performance on this track is the strongest on the album.
“Help me make this feeling go away” he sings in the first verse of So Long So Lonely. He lays out his negative emotions before singing “But now I’ve found myself in music”, indicating how the album was made as an escape from a low period of mental health. “I’m gonna make this feeling go away” he sings, indicating he has taken control of his narrative and is taking steps to keep himself emotionally healthy. Layers upon layers of intricate vocal harmony opens In Too Far; “We went in too far”. “We thought we were bigger than we were” he sings about his aforementioned relationship; “we’re just friends tonight”. Ending the record on a song about the end of a romantic relationship is somewhat bittersweet, but his outlook remains honest and positive.
‘Hotel Surrender’ is one of the best pandemic records. It is equal parts honest and hopeful. It is the epithet of everything I love about Chet’s music and so much more.
‘Hotel Surrender’ is available now on all platforms. Listen HERE.
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With thanks to Thinking Loud