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Hospitality: Hospitality (Merge) 

For every moment that's easily traced back to its influences, Hospitality offers something of a surprise leap in the other direction.

Though clearly descended from breezy pop bands—mostly U.K. groups like the Sundays, Belle and Sebastian, and Camera Obscura—this New York trio has a handle on when to spin a sweet melody, and when to churn some driving riffs.

The debut album from Amber Papini (vocals, guitar), Brian Betancourt (bass) and Nathan Michel (percussion) is impressively well-crafted from the start. "Eighth Avenue" arrives on a pounding bass line and Papini's wistful lyrics about her 20s spent in barrooms: "Young and maudlin / You were all right 'til the end of the night."

"Friends of Friends" and "The Right Profession" mine that same territory—an edgy nostalgia for days gone by, even though they're viewed with a clarity that says there's more to keep seeking.

While Papini's vocals always sound compelling, there's sometimes a haziness in her sweet delivery that obscures the lyrics. And though they're tough to trace at times, they're excellent, an intelligent brand of self-reflection that makes the challenges of post-college life seem fresh rather than clichéd.

The production is clear, neither overly slick nor too predictable, with space for quirks alongside the guitars and synths. One of the year's best debuts, Hospitality is easy to identify with without losing track of the songs' thrills.

More by Eric Swedlund

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