Real life couple Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina return as Houses, with their second album A Quiet Darkness out May 27th via Downtown Records. The album tells the story of a husband and wife and their quest to find each other along Highway 10 in California, after being separated by a nuclear disaster. Tortoriello and Messina also made this journey, recording sound and video in derelict houses they found along the highway.
This apocalyptic tale starts with the cinematic Beginnings. Picture devastation in slow-motion, houses falling to the ground, birds out of the sky. Reverbing guitar sweeps depict mini explosions and with each quake of the piano you get pulled deeper into the heaviness of it all, ‘into the hands of decay’.
Beginnings sets you up to expect an epic journey, where the leading characters battle against the odds to be reunited in their Romeo and Juliet-esque bid to die together, but it never really gets off the ground. Second track The Beauty Surrounds is marked by its tranquility, not what you would expect in an end of the world scenario. A playful melody rains down as the couple feel the effects of radiation, ‘their dimming quick and your getting sick…oh my love won’t bring you back to me and oh my god, I’m wasting away’. The track descends into shimmering synthscape.
The sense of adventure is lost in what follows, it stagnates in the formulaic composition that most of the tracks adhere to, sombre piano openings, music box loops, thudding bass drum and ringing synths.
The narrative does little to progress the story either. After Big Light, in which the duo’s equally gloomy vocals sing of separation, ‘I spent all night trying to remember your face, like trying to get blood from a stone’, things become unclear. Imagery is repeated, decay, wind, flowers at their feet, in Peasants with its Coldplay vibe, Tortoriello coos repeatedly about the ‘white wings of god’.
What We Lost does manage to triumph lyrically, depicting the couple switching between realistically facing their own mortality, ‘I’ll die in the dirt, on the 4th of July’ and being in an ethereal state of dying, ‘I can hear the wind blow, it sounds like angels and babies breath’.
Brushing the album concept aside, there is no denying that A Quiet Darkness is beautiful music, you could easily while away an hour in its ambience. The tracks that stand out benefit from added layers of echoey choral harmonies and M83 style synths.
With the duo’s monotone vocal delivery and the perpetual plod of the bass drum, the misery is palpable in A Quiet Darkness. This makes it beautiful music that weighs heavy on the listener, but then again the end of the world was never going to be uplifting.