While recently attending a Cold War Kids concert, we had not planned to be there for the opening act, Houses, but we were pleasantly surprised when they took the stage and immediately caught our attention. We were drawn to their upbeat melodic energy and to Dexter Tortoriello’s voice and the haunting harmonies of Megan Messina. After the show, we approached them about reviewing their new album, “A Quiet Darkness”, which was released on April 16th, 2013 through Downtown Records.
At the beginning we made the mistake of listening to the album in its entirety, in hindsight we should have taken breaks in between because of its relentless monotonous tone. Upon reading the lyrics of each song, we realized that it is riddled with death and hopelessness. After further research, we discovered the album is based on a post nuclear apocalyptic world.
Messina has a nice voice, but it muted Tortoriello’s warmth in most of the songs. For example in ‘Beginnings’ and ‘Big Light’, instead of sticking to back up vocals, she shadows his every word. While we love Tortoriello’s soothing and warm vocals, we felt that if Messina’s lifeless vocal accompaniment was discarded she would not have been missed.
Individually, most of the songs are enjoyable, but when listened to all together, they become droning and repetitive. You forget where one ends and another begins. We kept waiting for something more, for Tortoriello to project his voice and knock us off of our chairs. The vocals are more spoken than sung in many instances. Nonetheless, there were songs that we enjoyed on the album. ‘Peasants’ and ‘Beauty Surrounds’ were two of our favorites. ‘Peasants‘ is a captivating song with an alluring guitar and metronome piano. Messina and Tortoriello forge a magnetic blend in the chorus. ‘Beauty That Surrounds’ makes good use of the synthesizer. Messina is distant and ghost-like, highlighting Tortortiello. The music is buoyant while the lyrics are grievously mournful.
The rest of the album, specifically ‘What We Lost’ and ‘Smoke Signals,’ sounds like ambient noise that people use to fall asleep. The lyrics are written poetically, but the meaning of which is known only to the author, making the listener a little detached. You lose your connection to the music and your mind begins to wander in and out of your own daydreams. While the concept of this “concept album” is cinematic, the album itself is mind-numbing and we were underwhelmed with the 11 tracks.
Disappointingly, the album definitely didn’t capture how they sounded live. Their performance was geared more towards the audience of whom they were opening for, and that is the Houses we would like to have heard on this album.