Release Date: Feb 28, 2012
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Houses are an eerie, mothballed monument to our lives. A reminder of our corporeal selves, they manage to outlast us, and in the process acquire the uncanny ability to pass on vaporous memories. A musty photograph, the smell of a home-cooked meal or the touch of the actual bones of the creaking structure can fire off a spray of neurons in one fleeting moment.
MemoryhouseThe Slideshow Effect[Sub Pop; 2012]By Colin Joyce; February 27, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIt’s increasingly rare that a band will have stumbled across a well-defined unique aesthetic upon the first release that they send forth to the expanses of the internet. Memoryhouse’s 2010 EP, The Years, was one of these rare releases that established its niche from the very beginning. Though the duo, composed of Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion, drew heavy (if unwarranted) comparisons to much of the burgeoning chillwave scene, and though they dealt heavily in the reverb-drenched wispy vocals that were so in vogue at the time, The Years represents an effort more cinematic in scope than many of the other mushy bedroom pop artists of the time.
Listening to Memoryhouse is like peering through a rain-smeared window, squinting through sheets of water as familiar images soften into an abstract glow. It's fitting, as the band originally formed as a multimedia project, pairing short films and photos with nu-classical compositions. Now a full-fledged musical project, photographer/vocalist Denise Nouvion and composer/multi-instrumentalist Evan Abeele have integrated their visual leanings into song—turning debut full-length The Slideshow Effect into an affecting, cinematic experience.
Just last September, Memoryhouse re-released The Years EP through Sub Pop, and it was as dream pop as dream pop can get. Its shorter format worked in its favor and created a nostalgic, absorbing space that the listener finished exploring right as the record ended. On The Slideshow Effect, Memoryhouse strips away the full production, lets the vocals rise to the front, and lets their songs do the talking.
It isn’t often that one gets a chance to reference Def Leppard in a review, so let’s strike while the iron is hot. Back in the mid Eighties, the Sheffield soft rock titans were mixing an album, trying to get it just so. Eventually they had to stop, because they were wearing through the tape that they’d recorded onto. It was no longer brown, and instead had become almost translucent, with the sound quality beginning to suffer.
The Ontario duo Memoryhouse began not as a band so much as an art project. Denise Nouvion was a photographer who took dreamy, spectral-haunted photographs, and Evan Abeele a music school grad with an equal love of neo-classical composers and My Bloody Valentine. After meeting through friends a few years ago, Nouvion and Abeele embarked on a collaboration: He composed minimalist instrumental tracks to soundtrack her short films and accompany her photo exhibits.
Standing in contrast to their 2011 EP, a rather emotively-inclined affair befittingly titled The Years (which seemed like the soundtrack to nostalgic bliss at the time, if ever there could or should be one), The Slideshow Effect, the debut album by Toronto duo Memoryhouse, sounds like an exercise in restraint. In a turn from a borderline shoegaze variation of ambient dream pop to only slightly dream pop-tinged Americana folk pop, principal songwriter Evan Abeele and vocalist Denise Noubion have stripped their compositions of almost any and all electronically-generated ambience, and replaced it with a relatively minimal arrangement wherein Noubion’s vocals are featured prominently, backed by a sharp and cleanly-produced pseudo-folk band sound. “Little Expressionless Animals,” the album’s opener, immediately establishes this shift within the first few seconds; Noubion’s vocals have never been heard so loud and clear, and neither have the violins and light percussion that back her throughout the song.
It’s strange how one’s opinion can change in the space of a few months. In September of last year, I was lauding the sort-of debut EP on Sub Pop by the Toronto-area dream pop duo Memoryhouse called The Years, and I say sort-of because it was really a cleaned-up re-release of an EP that had been previously released a year earlier – a move that got the group knocked critically in another online music publication for essentially delivering the same product, just with the lo-fi aesthetic removed. Well, just five months later, Memoryhouse – containing the classical-music trained Evan Abeele and multimedia professional and singer Denise Nouvion – have issued their first full-length LP, The Slideshow Effect, and the only mood I initially conjured up after listening to it was one of mild indifference.
The Slideshow Effect refers to a technique that documentary filmmakers use when they zoom in on or pan across still images to add a sense of movement, and it's an apt title for Memoryhouse's debut album. Not just because the group has incorporated film and filmic visuals into their music since the beginning, but because they've zoomed in on a few key elements of their sound. On their early EPs, Memoryhouse decorated their songs with a dreamy ambience that only added to their wistfulness, but here their songs are laid bare, focusing on Denise Nouvion's voice and lyrics and an indie rock sound tinged with an alt-country twang.
Memoryhouse are a contrarian kind of proposition, careworn, yet relevant; beautiful yet faded, with their sound relying on a melding of nostalgia and modernity. “Little Expressionless Animals” contains a strained, eerie atmosphere, with the layering of vocals suggesting a tired kind of beauty. It’s present in Denise Nouvion’s voice, and aided by the sound of the violin, which wafts in and out like a wayward dove.
The Slideshow Effect is the long-gestating girl-boy duo Memoryhouse's much-anticipated full-length debut. Their first official release, The Years EP, dove head-first into full-fledged nostalgia complete with lush organs, low melancholic vocals, and reverb-drenched drum machines. However, The Slideshow Effect seems to be a bit of a musical sidestep for Memoryhouse .
[a]Memoryhouse[/a]’s delightful 2010 EP ‘The Years’ clocked in at just over 12 minutes, within which they elegantly pirouetted between styles: Deerhunter-intricate ambience, submerged house à la [a]M83[/a], even trip-hop. All of which makes the fact that their debut album dolefully abuses one bloodless idea over 42 minutes pretty galling. Opener ‘Little Expressionless Animals’ is named after a David Foster Wallace short, but its mopey rumble and Denise Nouvion’s nasal tones contain none of his bite, and thus it is for the rest of the record; insipid marshmallow post-rock that occasionally sniffs in the direction of [a]Yuck[/a] or [a]Mogwai[/a], but mostly glowers in a dismally cloying, precious nostalgia.[i]Laura Snapes[/i] .
The Slideshow Effect picks up where Memoryhouse's debut EP, The Years, left off, for the most part. Evan Abeele's cinematic instrumentals remain draped in a fine mist of reverb and Denise Nouvion's plaintive croon remains as buttery as ever, but there are slight changes. With a studio at his disposal, Abeele opted for more organic instrumentation, replacing the down-tempo drum machines and clouded swirl of lo-fi soundscapes of The Years with live drumming and crisper, chiming keyboards and guitars.
Charm, as they say, will get you everywhere. And Memoryhouse have it in buckets. Their albums exude a subdued magic, elegantly and expertly humanising their soft electronica through dreamy textures and photography.On ‘The Slideshow Effect’ they tweak their template, going from bedroom indie to a fuller sound (the band themselves have joked that it’s ‘Taylor Swift with Built To Spill as her backing band’).It’s a natural progression from the band’s ‘The Years’ EP.
Memoryhouse does dream pop, a genre name that is relatively self-explanatory, but which requires more than saying the obvious, which is that dream pop is pretty dreamy. It’s not music to be played especially loudly, and it’s not something so much that you listen to as absorb. But the best way to explain is that listening to dream pop is a lot like staring at a stark, empty landscape for several minutes.