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.
The record doesn’t just evoke decaying buildings; much of it was recorded inside them. While on tour, Messina and Tortoriello stopped at ghost towns to collect samples. Dead light switches, creaking floorboards, and gallons of dust fill the album’s backbone. Built from the detritus of the physical world, A Quiet Darkness occupies a warmer, realer space than Houses’ glitchy debut All Night.
Opener “Beginnings” mounts a music box loop to render the apocalypse. Landscapes turn to ash; birds drop dead from the sky. A couple is separated, left to wander the wastes in search of each other. The rest of the album hugs close to the first track’s melodic template. Keywords repeat: “ghosts”, “sky”, “God”. Messina echoes Tortoriello’s vocals like the fading memory of that lost lover.
A Quiet Darkness‘s idiosyncratic collages and percussion fortify what might otherwise have deflated into whispery sadcore. “The Beauty Surrounds” drags its beat from the left channel to the right, pricked by artificial handclaps. Foot stomps and finger snaps bolster the title track as the album curls into its final moments. When more traditional instruments break the mix, they sound alien. Synths squirm at itchy registers; guitars divide space rather than fill it.
At 57 minutes, A Quiet Darkness does suffer from bloat. Two downtempo instrumentals do little to elevate their surroundings, and the album’s longer tracks reiterate more than they evolve. Still, Houses accomplish their aim of filling an hour with a cinematic, transportive musica perfect soundtrack to milling about the end times.
Essential Tracks: “Beginnings”, “A Quiet Darkness”