Houses – A Quiet Darkness (album) (Downtown Records)

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It was with equal parts excitement and dread that we queued up ‘A Quiet Darkness’, the forthcoming album from electronica duo, Houses. Why dread? In early March we reviewed the first single, “Beginnings” (read our review), and if that was any indication of the album, we feared the sheer emotional weight may be too much to endure.

The sophomore album opens with the aforementioned single and here the Los Angeles based duo of Dexter Tororiello and Megan Messina far from conjure images of sunny Southern Californian skies. Opening with a jewelry box like arpeggio, which runs throughout the song, deep piano chords and dual male and female vocals follow soon after creating a rich and melancholic landscape. Slow moving and sullen, “Beginnings” never once changes key or tempo but increases in tension with the arrival of guitar chords and dramatic drum rolls around 2:15, thus creating a temperament similar to that of say, The National.

Luckily from second track “The Beauty Surrounds” things lighten up. The rest of the 11-song album is a moving meditation, though none embody the intensity of the first single. Phew. However make no mistake, ‘A Quiet Darkness’ is a down-tempo album coloured beautifully by a lush sound palate.

The narrative for ‘A Quiet Darkness’ tells the story of a husband and wife separated in the midst of a nuclear disaster and their attempt to reunite with one another along the Highway 10 in California before their inevitable deaths, each song taking place in different abandoned houses along the way. As moving as the subject matter is, the record never risks being depressing. Reflective and melancholy, yes, but depressive, no.

The duo, who are also a real life couple, made the trek along Highway 10 in California several times to record sound and video at these abandoned houses that are featured on the album. The album’s celestial ambience are conveyed throughout the album with techniques employed by Tortoriello’s production and the stark contrast between the minimal electronic pulses, found sounds and meandering and melancholy harmonies.

The album expertly and elegantly finds the balance between pop sensibility and creativity. The arrangements are sprawling and lengthy while the melodic vocals tie everything together. The production is delicate and minimalist allowing the songs to breathe and unravel on their own.

The piano tinkering and melodic vocals courtesy of “Big Light” are sublime and inviting. “Peasants”, one of the most immediate tracks on the record, is characterized by the production styling not unlike that of Thom Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’. Its combination of deep piano chords, acoustic guitar and glitchy electronica pulses give the album its poppiest moment.

Likewise, “Tenderly” is another gorgeous number and is the most melodic and arguably most immediate of all 11-tracks with its familiar sounding vocal melody that instantly takes hold for days after. Meanwhile, the dream-pop“Smoke Signals” is a moving number that has echoes of M83 with its thick, warm pads and dreamy hushed vocals.

Beauty and simplicity are shown in “Carrion” while the album’s title track, which closes out the album, exhibits a fragility that recalls Deptford Goth (read our review of “Life After Defo”, which was released back in March).

Rounding out the album are two solid instrumental numbers – “The Tired Moon”, an electronica track that explores a new mood new found elsewhere on the record, and “The Bloom”, which has the grace and atmosphere of Sigur Ros.

A rich and truly gorgeous record, ‘A Quiet Darkness’ will be released on 27 May, 2013 on Downtown Records.

Watch the trailer for ‘A Quiet Darkness’ below:

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