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Houses A Quiet Darkness (2013)

Houses — A Quiet Darkness

Houses — A Quiet Darkness
Location: Chicago, Illinois ~ Los Angeles, California
Album release: April 16, 2013
Record Label: Downtown
Duration:     57:00
01 The Beauty Surrounds     5:08
02 Beginnings     5:56
03 Big Light     4:49
04 The Tired Moon     5:25
05 Peasants     6:20
06 Carrion     4:05
07 What We Lost     4:18
08 Smoke Signals     4:30
09 Tenderly     4:33
10 The Bloom     5:13
11 A Quiet Darkness     6:50
¤  Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina
Website: http://www.housesmusic.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/housesofficial
Megan Rose Messina: http://www.facebook.com/meganrosemessina
Dexter Tortoriello: http://www.facebook.com/#!/hospitaltapes?fref=ts
Press contact: Dana Meyerson - Dana@biz3.net
Agent US - Jay@flowerbooking.com 
General director: Evan Peters - evan@petersmgmt.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/housesmusic
Tumblr: http://housesmusic.tumblr.com/
Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/housesmusic
¤  2013 sophomore effort from this Indie duo featuring Dexter Tortoriello, best known for his work with Dawn Golden and Rosy Cross. Houses is comprised of just two poignantly creative musical souls based in Chicago. A married couple in real life, the enduring union of Megan Messina and Tortoriello has engendered what is their second symphonic feat, A Quiet Darkness, the follow-up to 2010's critically-acclaimed debut, All Night. A Quiet Darkness presents not only an aural feast, but a tale to follow - a tale of unrequited love which unfolds in the midst of a nuclear disaster. The album represents the journey of an enamored husband and wife desperate to reunite, yet kept apart by destruction and chaos. Each song on the album represents an abandoned house along the Highway 10 in California, where the fictional lovers so bravely trek in search of one another only to be kept apart by death's eternal embrace.
By Ian Cohen; April 18, 2013  (Editor rating: 5.6)
¤  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. 2010’s All Night washed up during chillwave’s low tide with an appropriate backstory: Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina camped out in Hawaii to get away from the troubles of modernity for three months, lived off the land and made an album about it.
¤  In contrast, A Quiet Darkness earned the honor of "this month's craziest concept album" in the April 2013 issue of GQ: It’s the story of a couple separated by a nuclear holocaust and attempting to reunite along California’s Highway 10. This will be repeated in every single mention of A Quiet Darkness for good reason: it’s a nice hook that's much more interesting than the album's hour's worth of inert synth-pop ambience.
¤  The problem here is that A Quiet Darkness comprises mostly dirges, and dirges that don’t do a hell of a lot to distinguish themselves from each other. A typical song introduces itself with a four-bar pattern of reverberant piano chords; after the gaps in between are filled in by starlit synth twinkling, that pattern may alter slightly. Tortoriello’s wearied voice draws out a soporific melody which will occasionally be abetted by Messina’s sympathetic harmonies. The songs become increasingly spacious without ever achieving a crescendo and they fall into a rumpled heap after about five minutes of prodding from an unyielding kick drum thud. And then they do it all over again. That A Quiet Darkness doesn’t offer much in the way of immediate pleasure shouldn’t be entirely to its detriment, but this album doesn’t grow on you; it wears on you.
¤  A lot of the blame lies with Tortoriello and Messina’s vocals, which “fit” within the somnambulant tempos and sobering reverb by adding another layer of downy comfort. Tortoriello ranges from a resigned David Gray to a hungover Chris Martin, and he certainly takes pains to let you know this is sad music; note the occasional repeated lyric concerning the white wings of god and birds falling into the hands of decay. He’s an emotive singer, but not an expressive one, and so you never get a sense of desperation, of passion, or any indication that the characters in this story ever burned hotter than a vanilla-scented votive for each other, let alone enough to survive a nuclear winter.
¤  At times, this can actually work to Houses’ advantage, the low-dosage melancholy accumulating to the point where the overall effect becomes incapacitating. They get to this sweet spot by borrowing sugar from their neighbors in the arena-synth game. In the context of A Quiet Darkness’ indulgent tempos and song lengths, the thunderous rolls of booming orchestral percussion and distorted, descending chords towards the end of “Beginnings” are at least welcome for their M83-style grandiosity. By adding piccolo snare rolls and a silvery, slow-moving guitar figure to its drum machine and acoustic pitter-patter, “Peasants” situates itself as a triangulation point between White Ladder and xx; it’s not an isolated incident as Tortoriello appropriates Jamie xx’s riffs the way Jimmy Page appropriated Willie Dixon. Penultimate instrumental “The Bloom” is five minutes of slo-mo, Stars of the Lid-style drone, ostensibly meant as a pregnant pause before the inevitable death of the main characters. Yet the only real revelation is how little it differs from the equally torpid title track, one of the many on A Quiet Darkness that imagines the Antlers’ Hospice consisting only of its ambient interludes.
¤  In the context of a concept album, cohesion should be a good thing-- but it doesn't work in a situation where its creators are trying to form a narrative arc intimating that the characters concerned were married and endured a nuclear disaster. What A Quiet Darkness needs is contrast. That its mournful tones could pass for any old breakup album isn’t evidence of its universality, but lack of focus.
Fortaken: http://pitchfork.com + Read more at: http://www.onenewspage.com
Posted on April 16th, 2013 (2:30 pm) by Matt Essert
Person A: "Hey, you know what people love? Really slow music with a guy and a girl singing really softly that just kind of drones on and on."
Person B: "Are you sure?"
A: "Yeah, and the music itself will be pretty boring too, people love that shit."
B: "Hasn’t that been done a lot already? Like A LOT?"
A: "Yeah, but who the fuck cares? Let’s make an album like that!"
B: "Alright!"
¤  I kind of feel like this is the sort of conversation that happens between two people before they make an album like A Quiet Darkness. Released on Downtown Records by Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina, the duo and real-life couple collectively known as Houses, A Quiet Darkness is the group’s second effort, a follow up of their 2010 release All Night. Though All Night generated some Internet buzz and excitement (especially for songs like “Soak It Up”), the album ultimately failed to make much of a serious impact, and it was clear that the duo just needed a bit more time to develop as songwriters and composers. But it was also clear that they’d likely improve with time and maturity. Unfortunately, A Quiet Darkness just isn’t quite there yet.
¤  For Houses, there’s plenty of Internet-buzz-worthy backstory to draw in potential listeners—Tortoriello battled drug addiction for years and used music as a stepping stone forward in life; me moved to Chicago and started working with and then fell in love with Messina; the two started organically making music together; for their follow-up album, a lot of the songs and sounds are inspired by their travels and adventures, not all of them necessarily musical. This is all interesting enough (and I would never want to even remotely diminish Tortoriello’s struggles with addiction), but what really matters is the music itself, and I think most artists, Houses included, would agree with this. And while the story of Houses is quite interesting, the music is not.
¤  Over the course of about an hour, Houses delivers eleven tracks, some better than others, but mostly quite similar to each other and with limited lasting appeal. None of the instrumentals are especially grating or poorly done (although something could be said about the tremendous use of reverb and unintended background noises) and the singing is in itself fairly enjoyable; Tortoriello and Messina’s ability to harmonize is admirable and certainly one of the album’s redeeming qualities. But on an album full of melancholic drones of smooth background waves and almost monotone vocal lines with occasionally interspersed simple melodies, there’s little that stands out both from itself on the album and from the rest of music. A Quiet Darkness isn’t bad, but it’s nothing new, inventive, or all that interesting, and it’s not totally clear why I’m listening to it.
Perhaps hearing more about how the music was made will shed some light. "I wrote all of the songs while living in Chicago, and the samples for the record were taken mostly in Desert Center, Calif. and also in a bunch of other ghost towns around there closer to Arizona,” Tortoriello said in an email to the Huffington Post. "We finished the record at Sonic Ranch studios, which is a beautifully isolated studio on a pecan farm in El Paso, Texas, and then afterwards moved to L.A. The album from start to finish travelled quite a bit and saw many different incarnations in each location, each of which brought the songs into new directions."
¤  So maybe it all adds up. On an album that feels disjointed and somewhat lost, Houses themselves were perhaps lost along the way. Travelling around to so many places with just a basic idea of a song structure is a good recipe for an album of music that sounds less than fully baked and in need of a bit more thought. Simply put, A Quiet Darkness lacks focus. The ingredients for a strong record are there, but they’re mostly misused to the point of repetitive boredom and vanilla commonality. Ten or fifteen years ago, this might have been something special, but today, it’s an all too common sound and Houses needs to tighten itself up or change directions if it wants to make a statement.
Fortaken: http://inyourspeakers.com © from left: Megan Messina Dexter Tortoriello and Evan Peters in Sonic Ranch Recording Studios.

Houses A Quiet Darkness (2013)



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