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Firecracker People

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Album Review

You've got to wonder what was going through Darren Jessee's mind while he spent six years playing drums for Ben Folds Five — Folds may have a knack for writing a witty pop tune, but Firecracker People, the second album from Jessee's subsequent project, Hotel Lights, makes it clear that Darren had far more subtle and cerebral sounds lurking within his heart. Jessee and producer/multi-instrumentalist Alan Weatherhead have filled Firecracker People with spectral musical textures and melodies that sound subtly heartbroken even when they carry silky smooth hooks; like a friendlier version of Chappaquiddick Skyline fused with Ron Sexsmith's bruised but hopeful songwriting style, Hotel Lights deliver graceful sounds that speak of the dark night of the soul without entirely giving in to despair. Jessee's soft, burnished whisper of a voice is certainly the right instrument for these tunes, and between Jessee and Weatherhead, a small army of keyboards and guitars gives these songs their musical flesh and blood, and it's difficult at times to imagine that an album which sounds this rich was created by a mere four people (bassist Jay Brown and drummer Zeke Hutchins, former members of Tift Merritt's road band, are relatively recent additions to Hotel Lights but hold down the rhythm with unobtrusive skill on these sessions). The craft of Firecracker People is nothing short of superb, though it lacks the dynamics to make its 47 minutes as compelling as they could be; the album's gentle midtempo feel is a bit like a warm bath that feels soothing at first but gets a bit tepid with time, and this music could use some more peaks and valleys for the sake of texture. But that doesn't change the fact Jessee writes fine songs, and he and Weatherhead know how to make them come to life in the studio; if consistency is the flaw of Firecracker People, it also means this album doesn't have a single dud track and it sounds great from first note to last.

Customer Reviews

Excellent Sophomore Album!

The first self-titled album introduced a new talent to the indie scene. "Firecracker People" gives us what we would expect from a Hotel Lights album, but adds the feel of Jesse's older band, Ben Folds Five. Tracks like "Amelia Bright" and "Firecracker People" both seem to nod towards the later works of the band. The music never veers from the original sound that would bring us to buy another album. Hotel Lights have triumphed in creating yet another excellent album.

The quiet moments

Wow! Wondering if there would ever be a follow up and finally there is! Enjoying the album particularly Firecracker people and Blue Always finds Me.

Breaking from the image of your former bandmates is hard to do.

Ben Folds Five was easily one of the best “outsider” bands of the 1990’s. Ben Folds himself has gone on to a very successful solo career and the former drummer, Darren Jesse, is doing his best to make a niche for himself with his band Hotel Lights. Firecracker People is the second album for Hotel Lights after their self titled debut in 2006. Jesse shows his knack for songwriting from the very first track, “Blue Always Finds Me.” Each song showcases a pure talent for lyrics and song. “Amelia Bright,” a live favorite from the old days, has been reworked to fit in with pure pop flavor and even features backing vocals from Tim Buckley who also lends his voice on the title track as well. Buckley’s vocals are truly backup and a bit lost in Jesse’s baritone which may be the reason Hotel Lights did little to recognize a star in their liner notes. Alan Weatherford, of Sparklehorse and Camper Van Beethoven fame, also added star power to the lineup by playing guitar and producing the album. Combining excellent song writing with the musical experience of not only the band members but also two of the indie genre’s best has helped Firecracker People become an excellent record. Hotel Lights will probably never be as big as Ben Folds Five, and that fact is too bad. This album is good listening from the very first note and at forty-seven minutes was not enough. Joseph Bridges (Staff Writer for


Formed: 2000 in Chapel Hill, NC

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Essentially the solo vehicle for Ben Folds Five drummer Darren Jessee, the mellow indie pop group Hotel Lights formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2000 after Ben Folds Five temporarily disbanded. Switching from drums to guitar, piano, and vocals, Jessee hooked up with guitarist/producer Alan Weatherhead, guitarist/keyboardist Chris Badger, bassist Roger Gupton, and drummer Mark Price for the band's eponymous debut album released on Bar/None Records in 2006. By 2007, Gupton and Price had been...
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