Courtesy of Herzog
Cover art for Herzog's new album.
Herzog is set to unleash, A Hotel in Your Hometown
, its fifth studio album in a digital-only format on Bandcamp on Monday, and a new live release will come out later this month.
The 11-song album coming out on Exit Stencil Records bursts with sublime ballads, fluid harmonies and lush melodies. Rocker-kid societal observations, Cleveland streets, love lost, rain and snow serve as fodder for these waltz-y cuts. It's a deviation from the usual indie rock rippers Herzog typically cranks out.
Whether fans embrace this diversion or not, this is a mature and contemplative album with Elliott Smith genetics and Simon and Garfunkel DNA flanked by a dusty twang in songs such as “The Ballad of Andrew Luck.” One can’t help but think of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills and Nash when hearing the breath and cadence on this tune, and that’s also true of much of the record.
The intricacy of the guitar work is technically masterful whilst remaining full of whimsy and fluidity. These songs take us high above a distorted reality, lifting the listener up for brief respite from a world fraught with dissent and chaos.
The record is colorfully adorned with swaths of flute, trumpet, French horn and clarinet, and it’s glossed with keys, synth and mandolin. The message is sardonic and grim at times, but it’s in the musicality where the listener finds safe harbor in the depths behind it all like a place where one can leave the doors unlocked at night.
All songs have guitar and vocals by David McHenry and Nick Tolar, bass by Mike Allen and guitar by Charlie Trenta along with Dan Price on drums, when there are some, along with other instrumentation. Other hired guns on the album are Rob Kovacs, Ian Romano, Joe Miller, Jenny Magistrelli, Leia Hohenfeld, Mike Tolan and Chris Meiner.
Herzog has a vital collaborator, Tony Vorell, who participates in the lyrical songwriting but does not always perform on stage with the band, and although Vorell does not usually participate in rehearsals or recordings, he is still and active and important member. Tolar writes the melodies first, and then, he and Vorell write the words together. The band makes them into songs; it’s how things have gone over the past 10 years.
“I think over the ten years we’ve been this band, we earned a reputation as being a fun, loud live band,” explains Vorell. “I became suspicious of that reputation as being something fun from the ’beforetimes.’ I don’t want to be a band who pretends that didn’t just happen. It’s unfair and untrue to who we are. We had a bunch of rocking-er singles we recorded with Chris Keffer that came out as Fiction Writer
, and while we were doing that album, we already started thinking about switching directions. The pandemic made the rest of the decision for us.”
The listener senses the pandemic’s influence on the mellifluousness of the album, which is skirted by meditations on dystopia and moments of lost love which don’t go unnoticed in this writing process.
“It’s an odd place writing bleak music like this and doing it with a positive mental attitude,” continues Vorell. “We want listeners to enjoy it and find comfort and community within the work we do.”
As always, Cleveland offers an austere but humorous backdrop for this music and with it comes songs like, “Rain” and “Stupid Youth,” the latter of which sentimentalize a snowy West Blvd.
“Sooo much rain and snow,” reflects Vorell. “So, so much. Yeah, Cleveland is the setting of everything we do. There’s a Tom Waits quote where he says something like in order to set a song, you have to talk about either weather or sailors. That’s something that is always in my mind. If I want to talk about these people, the citizens of Cleveland, I have to talk about what they see, which is often bleak weather.”
The album comes out of the gate with a nearly ten-minute epic entitled simply “Molnar.” It’s dedicated to David Molnar and Ryan Yankee, two Cleveland musicians and vital people in the Cleveland music community who passed away recently. Molnar was the guitarist in Expecting Rain, which was Vorell’s and Tolar’s 2000’s indie rock band before Herzog.
The title of the album refers to a lyric in the first track, “Black River” describing a story of a woman being driven to a hotel while her boyfriend buys drugs and the whole album continues to contemplate the feeling of displacement and disassociation.
“If you go to a hotel in Cleveland, you don’t feel like you’re in Cleveland anymore,” says Vorell. “Even though no other songs are set in hotels, that feeling of displacement is in a lot of the songs.”
From the song, “Black River”:
“She’s not driving, she is looking
Through a crack in window glass
To a sign with letters missing
Still can read “this too shall pass”
And she doesn’t know this dealer
And she doesn’t trust his stuff
But if it helped her through tomorrow
that still wouldn’t be enough”
The cover art is by Cleveland artists and musician, Stephe DK, founder of noteworthy Cleveland bands, the New Lou Reeds and Proletarian Art Threat and WCSB’s host of the monthly program, Tuesday Club
. It depicts a man in a seedy hotel room, the door boarded up in an act of paranoia. A hammer, a baseball bat, an empty bottle, an ashtray and what looks like a bottle of pills are strewn across the room as he attempts to drape a blanket over the already closed window shade and for some reason and to spite his efforts, the "Do Not Disturb" sign remains on the inside of the door. Yes, Cleveland AF.
Moving forward, the band will continue to write songs although live performances.
“As our lives change, we will be playing fewer shows,” divulges Vorell. “As of last month, the majority of us are over 40. Dan and I have kids. It is impractical to keep a live show ready at all times to jump on every bill, while simultaneously making another record. I’m aware we take up oxygen from younger artists, especially women musicians. I like being able to get up on stage and say our bit, but I don’t like saying it at the expense of the next generation. Let 100 flowers bloom, as the saying goes.”
For the release performance, even though members say the Happy Dog venue is their mainstay, the band wanted to offer a more precise performance in a more controlled environment for this more delicate set of songs which will be performed here for the first and potentially the only time; therefore, they decided to do it at the Brother’s Lounge.
They say that the show will be more of a sit-down-and-watch-the-band-do-its-thing kind of performance.
The Herzog release party
will feature Herzog with Special Guests Talon and Rob Kovacs at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, July 29.