Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Memoryhouse - The Slideshow Effect


To name yourself after a Max Richter album can be seen as either a testimonial in its gratitude or something that's boldly declarative. Whatever its reason, Memoryhouse - whatever you may perceive - do not reside in the same experimental neo-classical field of compact compositions Mr Richter is highly regarded for. The two-piece of composer Evan Abeele and photographer Denise Nouvion, instead are a blend of indie pop, lo-fi and glowing ambience that delivers as much on its production than it does in its creation. The Slideshow Effect then, aims for an escapist approach and turns its attention to the harmonization of Nouvion's vocals amidst Abeele's palette of aesthetic sounds.

The opening track 'Little Expressionless Animals' makes an exemplified use of harmony, Nouvion's voice echoing down what starts as an empty channel, soon gets washed in a crumpling of sluggish beats and violin strings. Already the duo are showing some signs of a more trip-hop/downtempo circulation in their music but the song indeed feels like an introductory piece in respect of the whole album. Because of it, there is no immediate intensity or means to grip the listener in either the music or the lyrics that come off here a little effortless than what may be expected. 'The Kids Were Wrong' thankfully adds a bit more pace to proceedings - frivolous flushing of guitar work expanding upon the percussion of previous, adding a rough and rigid texture to vocal work that still softens atop the glow of instruments.

Vocals are given as much - if not more - attention to the mixing of this album then anything else. It doesn't degrade the music on contact, but as you progress through this 10-track album (most of these songs following a similar stratum of instruments topped by vocals) you'll find that despite the warmth beating from the pores of the album, Nouvion's singing falters as a result, becoming mono in its output; lyrics bearing the brunt of this lack of intrigue. 'Heirloom' has a fascinating air to its progression, echoing guitar work leading the charming percussion in such a way that it's able to transcend beyond that of similarly drifting folkish pop tunes. Vocal work is improved upon here, but Nouvion's voice sets itself nicely apart from the actual words she sings. I usually show little intrigue, or bearing, on the direction and context of words, but as the album showcases, this is merely due to the band's decision to focus on a sound that sails rather than soars its way across the plains.

Acoustics are used deservedly as much as electric strings are as is showcased in the lazy trailing of 'Bonfire'. It's a gentle and retreating strumming that feels more like a switching to winding down in contrast to the album's previous humming glow. There's a haze of uneasiness as much as there is a clarity of easiness, but for a track driven mostly by its guitar work - and encompassing five-and-a-half minutes more importantly - its pays off remarkably well. When the sound is at its minimal in output, this is when the vocals tend to work better. I refer again to the corridors of hauntingly beautiful female-led trip-hop acts like Lamb and Hooverphonic to demonstrate that unlike Memoryhouse, these bands managed to captivate a sense of distant recollection in both a means to reflect and tell a story. On 'The Slideshow Effect' there's very little evidence of it...or if this had been the intention, it unfortunately doesn't work out as well as imagined. 'Walk With Me' has a mellower 90s-pop edge to it, but as the guitars and drums pick up again, even Nouvion's intentional bitterness - that is either sorrowful or forgiving - comes off as hollow and dry in its solidity.

'Kinds of Light' then is a song that can be taken away from this album as a fine demonstration to Memoryhouse's lack of conforming to the implementing of chords and this essentialness of a typical instrument's playing patterns. The piano here sounds innocently pristine, every note as if it's been carefully revised and played as if overtly-cautious. But amidst this introverting shyness, the sounds of this lush binding adds an extra depth of innocence and uncertainty to a sound that already creates a pleasant aroma. But for every hit of a key or strum of a guitar string, I find myself in some unwanted desperation to try and find some clarity and character to the vocals. Vocals, which unfortunately, hinder more than they benefit.

I can't blame Nouvion for trying, be it attempting to amplify the duo's decision for something that sounds more withdrawing than your typical four-layers-down-dream of whisked strumming and clotted percussion, but I can't help but see this as a fault of both the vocalist and the mixing of it against (and atop) the instrumentation. Maybe the results would have been different had it be changed, I don't know. Maybe the deliverance would have conjured a different feeling had the execution of these lyrics had been thought about more, I don't know. 'The Memoryhouse Effect' does what it needs to do on the musical side of things, but I can't say the same for the vocal and lyrical side of it. And further to that, the decisions taken into how it is implemented. Don't get me wrong, Denise Nouvion may sit neatly amidst the curling and coiling of nimble notation on some tracks, but on the wider aspect, the spring of ideas and means to showcase a blossoming of harmony, come across as not only lacking in substance, but lacking in variation too.
~Jordan

6.5

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