Darren Jesse has stepped out of the shadow of Ben Folds (he was their drummer), establishing himself as a terrific talent in his own right. His self-titled debut is one of the three best albums to come out of town in the past year. The second song, "A.M. Slow Golden Hit," sets the album's tone capturing the easy-going pop grace of the '70s singer/songwriter age. Across 13 tracks, Jesse fashions a watercolor daydream of brightly hued ballads and slow-moving pop perfection. Driven largely by acoustic guitar, at times the record recalls the light, airy baroque pop touch of Dream Academy, though Hotel Lights feels more influenced by Paul Simon than Love. While much of the album saunters by on the strength of its pretty slow-motion sonic warmth, the standout tracks are those that stray a bit from this template, such as the bubbly, piano-driven number "What You Meant" and the slow-burning "The Mumbling Years." The best track is the churning, new wave rock rave-up "The Marvelous Truth," a crackerjack existential tune that is utterly unique on the album and wonders "are you dreaming about a life that's full of meaning? Oooh, oooh, the marvelous truth." A triumph from start to finish.
IWTDI's craftsmanship has steadily increased, tightening the screws on a brimming, bracing power-pop sound. The new volume and frisson on this stunning seven-song EP builds on their sound without razing the room.