Artist: La Dispute
Album: Rooms of the House
What makes a house a home? Is it the length of time you’ve lived there? Is it as simple as its location? Is it really anything so superficial as how it looks, where it is or how much the mortgage is? Of course not. The things that make houses home to us are the people we live with inside them, and the things we do with our time there—the seeds we plant that grow and blossom into memories as the weather the passage of time like saplings in a storm. In this respect, Grand Rapids post-hardcore giants La Dispute should have named their debut album Rooms of the Home. Rooms of the House is a thoroughly lived-in listening experience that welcomes the listener in with feelings, emotion and sentiment reminiscent of the band’s past endeavors, but ambushes them with something new and different—an intangible element that is sure to leave the listener breathless and slack-jawed even after repeated listens.
As you walk in the front door—take a deep breath, basking in the stale air—you’re immediately greeted with that same familiar feeling. Home. Take a left and climb the staircase, taking another left—past the laundry room that still smells like drier sheets—and facing down the hallway where three bedrooms stand before you. This is the experience found within the opening seconds of Rooms of the House; a feeling of familiarity as vocalist Jordan Dreyer’s half-chanted harsh words harmonize with hints of splashy percussion and crystal-clear guitar. Facing down the hallway, timidly, you step forward, carefully and thoughtfully placing one foot ahead of the other. As you approach the first door, extending your arm and tightening your grasp around the cool, brass doorknob, you take a deep breath. La Dispute are about to ensnare you in their one-of-a-kind method of heartfelt, relentless storytelling—and there is nothing you can do about it.
With a rush and a plunge, you twist the doorknob and stumble into the room, instantly greeted by the same unblemished room—her same unblemished room. Like a tidal wave, a crushing flood of emotion swells and smothers you, rushing into your head through your ears. The room looks the same: from the quilt carefully folded at the foot of the bed to the dinged and scratched paint on the opposite wall—a reminder of the time you two got into your first fight, and you threw your personalized coffee mug across the room. The emotional past bottled up behind the closed door is let loose, rampantly tearing and pulling at your heartstrings. The same emotional juggernaut that was the driving force behind Somewhere at the Bottom—the juggernaut locked inside this room—is still present on La Dispute’s Rooms of the House, even if its role has been recessed to that of a puppeteer, working behind the scenes. Tracks like “First Reactions After Falling through the Ice,” as well as “Stay Happy There” make brilliant use of the same frantic, emotional energy that was the current in the river between Vega and Altair. Punchy percussion and racing, driving rhythms keep perfect candor with Dreyer’s vocal acrobatics, lulling when appropriate, but, more often than not are crafting stellar soundscapes of vibrant, excessive energy.
The overwhelming rush and energy—while familiar—is just too much to endure for too long. There will be moments, isolated times where the roar and rush of such turbulent memories will break free from behind that door; but for now, it stays there, as much a part of the architecture as the doorframe and the walls that constrain it. Winded, but prepared, you make your way to the second door, this time unafraid of what might lie in wait behind it. The first thing to shock you is the lurid—but familiar—wallpaper. Floral wallpaper: painting images of pure, visceral and tangled life across all four walls of the room in vibrant, ripe color. This is the influence of Wildlife, another facet from La Dispute’s highlight reel which is all too present in certain aspects of Rooms of the House. “35” and “SCENES FROM HIGHWAYS 1981-2009” especially—along with the album’s opening track, “HUDSONVILLE MI 1956” attack the listener with scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in a textbook of Michigan’s history. Ripe with personal touches, twists and turns from the band’s Midwest heritage, these tracks provide the warm, soft light and focus of Wildlife while still maintaining intense—and at times dark—lyrical content that hits the listener’s heart like a shotgun to the chest. The instrumentation alters at these points too—focusing less on jumpy, driving fretwork and percussion, and more on dancy, deep underlying harmonies. Leaving the door ajar, backing away (as the fluorescent floral wallpaper is just too much this early in the morning), you move on to the third room of the house.
You take a deep breath, thinking in time with the expansion and contraction of your lungs. Inhale. You already know what’s in the last room. Exhale. But you need to see it for your self. This is about closure. Repeat. Finally, door number three creaks open and you timidly move inside—nearly on the tips of your toes, as if to avoid waking whatever demon might be lurking inside. The walls are a soft, serene shade of blue—baby blue—and the room feels unfinished. The head-and-footboard of a crib are leaning against the far wall, instructions and screwdriver still folded and placed neatly atop the box. In the far corner there is a stack of Huggies boxes—unopened—and a plush bear, arms open wide—the very definition of huggable. This room was going to be his. Your lips quiver, but your fist tightens and your resolve strengths. Not here—not now. This room is the room of La Dispute’s future—the intangible element that is new and unrefined on Rooms of the House. The element that makes “THE CHILD WE LOST 1963” such an intense, emotional powerhouse, or that makes portions of “Extraordinary Dinner Party” so insanely catchy. This element sees La Dispute moving away from an overabundance of “darlings” and leaving the worst parts of Michigan behind, creating something all new and not yet heard—and when it works, it works—“THE CHILD WE LOST 1963” serving as a prime example. However, like all things young and fresh, it needs nurture and direction to flourish into something beautiful—which is where the album’s closing number, “Objects In Space” see the band falter ever so slightly. While the words are meaningful and the melody soothing, the two don’t seem to line up, like two arrows neither traveling in the same direction nor contrasted against each other strongly enough to make an impression. This lack of direction gives rise to the only small flaw present throughout Rooms of the House’s duration.
You still think about it from time to time—the warm sun and serene summer days spent on the front porch, the cool and colorful autumn mornings. You reflect on all the good because, as your memory would have it, there is no bad to speak of. This is Rooms of the House; a collection of all the best memories as they exist from La Disputes past, tinted by plans of an even more promising and vibrant future. Even though a couple of the windows are boarded over, and the paint is scuffed and chipped, you choose not to focus on the details—not on the nitty gritty, but on the bright and beautiful. After all, why focus on the bad? What’s the point anyway?
For Fans Of: Touche Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth, Listener, Into It. Over It.
By: Connor Welsh