Houses’ sophomore album traces a couple’s attempt at connecting in the wake of a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Weaving together electronics, found sounds and live percussion, the husband-and-wife duo has created a dream-pop album that rests on a razor’s edge between intimate and cinematic (see: the slowly blossoming “The Beauty Surrounds”). Relentlessly dark—spoiler alert: things aren’t looking so good for our protagonists—Houses still somehow manage to find breathtaking wonder in the wreckage.
After recording their 2010 debut All Night over the course of a rejuvenating stay in Hawaii, the slightly sadcore indie duo Houses not only switched environments completely for the follow-up A Quiet Darkness, but made their environment central to the creative process. Married couple Megan Messina and Dexter Tortoriello moved from Chicago to Los Angeles somewhere between albums, but along the way dipped into various abandoned houses along empty stretches of highway in southern California and elsewhere, sampling the sounds made by these somewhat haunted structures to build the foundational rhythms and ambience of A Quiet Darkness. While the group was sometimes lumped into the chillwave movement in their earliest days, the sounds here dispel that categorization with landscapes more lush and picturesque than hypnotically submerged.
Crafting an album that’s incredibly cohesive in sound, to the point of monotony even, is always a risky thing to do. Some careful balancing needs to be done or what could have been a brilliantly consistent album that keeps its atmosphere up throughout can turn out to be a slow drive through ever-similar fields which all blend together into a musical gray blob. The tiniest little detail or the way you arrange those details can matter and be the crucial factor between success and failure.
Houses relocated from glo-fi enclave Lefse to Downtown Records for their second album, undergoing major renovations in the process. The duo recorded A Quiet Darkness in their Los Angeles home as well as the Sonic Ranch studio perviously occupied by indie A-listers such as Beach House, Animal Collective, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The production upgrade from their debut is significant, but you spot the real difference even before you push play.
There’s a reason Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina go by Houses, not Homes. With a contemplative strain of experimental rock that hangs somewhere between Low and The National, the couple illuminate the husks of once loved spaces. Like ruin photography, the duo’s sophomore LP A Quiet Darkness uses muted sadness to tantalize and beckon. A glimmer of broken glass draws us closer.