This six-song album borrows its title from a beloved Croatian hotel damningly slated for modernization, which is a fitting inspiration for an album that "celebrates and mourns the tragedy and beauty of the ephemeral." Obviously, that is an especially resonant theme these days, given the endlessly accelerating pace of change and the relentless erosion of the comforting and familiar. Lattimore has always been unusually well-attuned to such feelings, but Goodbye, Hotel Arkada is also inspired by her passions for collaboration and travel, both of which "shake loose strands of inspiration."
In keeping with those themes, this album features a number of intriguing collaborators (Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, The Cure's Lol Tolhurst, etc.), as well as a number of pieces inspired by warm memories of specific places and times from her travels, tours, and childhood. In fact, this is now the second Lattimore release that alludes to the island of Hvar (the first being 2020's landmark Silver Ladders). Naturally, the end result of all those reawakened memories and inspired collaborations is yet another gorgeous Mary Lattimore album, but it took a few listens before I fully appreciated this one's magic, as Goodbye, Hotel Arkada often feels deceptively simple on its surface. In reality, however, these are some of Lattimore's most focused and beautifully crafted pieces to date (they just take a little bit longer than usual to reveal their full depths).
My initial impression of this album was that it was a bit too conventionally pretty and straightforward to rank among Lattimore's strongest work, which I now attribute to the fact that the immersive, psychedelic touches of her "effects pedal" era have been toned down a bit. I am thankfully much wiser and more perceptive now, but I never would have gotten to that place if I had not been absolutely mesmerized by "Horses, Glossy on the Hill." That piece is an instant stone-cold classic right from the first notes, as Lattimore beautifully weaves together a bittersweet descending melody with a wooden clacking rhythm and lush Disintegration-esque synth chords. It initially has the feel of a delicate, dancing music box melody, but the deeper magic lies in the details, as Lattimore crafts a swoon-inducing dreamscape through quivering vibrato, tender melodies, lovely harmonies, subtle effects, and rippling chord sweeps. In fact, Lattimore does not miss a single trick, as even the clacking sounds have a wonderfully long and reverberant decay and the final stretch feels akin to being lovingly serenaded by an ensemble of harp-wielding celestial cherubs. Had "Horses, Glossy on the Hill" been the opener, the rest of Hotel Arkada would have had a damn-near impossible act to follow, but Lattimore wisely positioned it as a late-album climax instead. That allows the more modest and intimate remaining pieces a chance to blossom outside its long shadow, which is the sort of thoughtful sequencing that I have grown to expect and appreciate from Lattimore.
The album's other big highlight is "Arrivederci," which Lattimore ironically started writing after the heartbreak of being fired from a project for not playing the harp parts well enough (a wound that was later healed further by the arrival of Lol Tolhurst's contributions on New Year's Eve). It too has welcome hints of Disintegration-era Cure, but the deeper beauty again lies in the details, as the swaying rhythm, bleary psych touches, chiming melodies, and shimmering organ undercurrent provide a wonderful distraction as Lattimore sneakily assembles the pieces for a gorgeously intricate crescendo of interwoven melodies.
The pleasures of the remaining pieces are admittedly a bit more modest, but that does not make them any less charming or lovely–it just means that their inspirations were a bit more quiet and intimate than, say, a herd of horses or a painful rejection (for example, "Music For Applying Shimmering Eye Shadow" is exactly what it claims to be). Viewed in that light, Goodbye, Hotel Arkada is an understated masterpiece that weaves together a lifetime of sense impressions, fond memories, and lasting friendships and the album's pleasures only deepen upon learning the stories behind each piece. As Lattimore herself puts it, the fate of Hotel Arkady awakened her to the elements "that make a place special" and she set out to memorialize those places and people that had left their mark on her own life (to "bottle" their essence, if you will). For example, "And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me" is a reference to the time Lattimore and her mom got to meet Big Bird after winning a childhood drawing contest, while "Yesterday's Parties" evokes memories of late nights with friends in Brussels and "Eye Shadow" is partially inspired by learning that space allegedly smells like "walnuts and brake pads."
In short, Lattimore distilled all of life's rich pageant into a wonderful album, then threw Muppets and outer space onto the heap as well, which is a move that definitely would never have occurred to a lesser artist. Given that, I have no hesitation about declaring Hotel Arkada to be a remarkable piece of art, as Lattimore has managed to soulfully channel all the sadness, yearning, joy, and wonder of being alive into a movingly beautiful and bittersweet celebration of the things that matter (even if some of them only exist in memory).