The listening experience crafted by New York-based Ghost X Gardens’ album, Heartbreak Hotel Chelsea (released by P.T. Orion Presents in August 2018), needs to be digested the same way as a good book or a deep movie: slowly. There is a lot to appreciate in these 12 tracks, although what shines through are the song lyrics and the interviews with Stormé DeLarverie.
Singer-songwriter Adam Rushfield recorded this full-length while maintaining a residency at its namesake, the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. It was there that he met longterm resident DeLarverie, who was a performer and MC at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. DeLarverie (who passed on in 2014) is credited with throwing the first punch in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a major moment in the gay rights movement. Ten of the tracks contain at least a minute of either her singing, talking, or both. The names she drops – of locations, people, and events – make for a captivating listen.
Both song lyrics and DeLarverie’s stories are, in themselves, an homage to the Chelsea Hotel, a place that caters to artists and has seen its share of fame, excess, and murder. Rushfield captures this atmosphere in a fascinating album narrative. Whether it is running away (“Hittin’ the Bricks”) from a bad relationship (“Louisiana Liar”), or seeing literal ghosts (“The Ghost Song”), no sordid tale is off-limits. These tales also include surviving an attempt on his life that kills, instead, his new girlfriend (“Think That Drink Was Meant for Me”), dealing with the upcoming end of artist residencies (“Heartbreak Hotel Chelsea”) by holing himself in his room (“Room Is a Tomb”), and a rekindled relationship (“Love Songs so High”) that disappoints (“Anymore It’s Not the Same”).
Rushfield deftly uses a panoply of tempos, instruments, melodies, and genres to set the mood in each track, sometimes choosing to parallel these various elements while, at other times, setting them up in opposition to one other. In “Hittin’ the Bricks” comes the biggest oppositional clash, with lyrics conveying deep despair set to rollicking, rocking music that includes energetic horns and cheerful guitars. On the other end of the spectrum is, interestingly enough, the following track, “Louisiana Liar.” It balances lyrics with a moody rock ballad-feel, complete with an electric guitar solo and a melancholic violin. The latter adds just the right amount of somberness to mirror destruction in the hands of a liar.
The sultry, horn-heavy “The Ghost Song” is simply perfect. Its slow and throbbing beat reflects the sluggishness of the transition between disbelief and belief, while the blast of horns shows the flashes of clarity that guide us through. A jangling sound, much like that of chains, adds a wonderful touch. In sharp contrast, the hectic tempo of “Think That Drink Was Meant for Me” translates perfectly the anxiety of surviving an assassination attempt, the shock of which is captured by the raspy vocals of this punk rock number. Of particular note is the spine-tingling way the following lyric is spoken: “And I swear if I ever catch you/I swear I’ll make you bleed.” Threats do have, after all, more weight when they are whispered.
Heartbreak Hotel Chelsea is a captivating album with stories that will float around in listeners’ heads for quite some time after the last note has faded away. More information about the band is available on their website. Stream their music on SoundCloud.