Review Summary: An album of snapshots and the places in which those moments are housed.
People who grow up in small towns or any other sort of close-knit community have to deal every day with the weight of reputation. Because they are constantly in danger of being remembered for that one
stupid thing they did as a kid, it almost seems safer sometimes to attempt to blend into the background. After all, splashes made in small, still bodies of water spread outward for quite a while. Still, despite those efforts, one can only influence a reputation so much, and it is only the most forgettable of individuals who can avoid the trap. Citizens of small towns often populate the songs of La Dispute, and it seems singularly ironic that the band has to deal with the very same problem of their reputation. That one thing
is Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Altair And Vega
, an album that, although not terrible, was dragged down by excessive lyrical and vocal bombast. The subject of spurned love has always been a little shallow, but never more so than when Jordan Dreyer tried to make it sound like the deepest and most vital thing you could write about. For all the illusions of haste and movement in those songs, La Dispute was ultimately, to borrow a phrase from Rooms Of The House
, just moving furniture around.
Since then, they’ve started writing actual songs instead of friend-zone poems set to music. Wildlife
was a great leap forward, and Rooms Of The House
further evolves their sound. It is an album that is obsessed with snapshots of moments, and also the places in which those moments are housed. There are infinite branching possibilities to our lives, but those possibilities are also infinitely small within the timeline of human history. Appropriately, Dreyer has learned to focus more closely on quieter themes instead of the unnecessarily grandiose lyrics on Somewhere…
. Two of the songs on this album - “Woman (In Mirror)” and “Woman (Reading)” - are basically musical still life paintings. In fact, the musicians of La Dispute have always seemed a little bit like painters, and that’s fairly admirable given the uphill battle they sometimes face with Dreyer’s lyrics (how do you write music for lines like, “And I hope you see us - your wife and your children and I - buried in the wreckage of your crime”"). They have always struck a perfect balance between restraint and heaviness, and on this album they continue the trend started on Wildlife
of coming up with chord progressions that are both inventive and beautiful. “For Mayor In Splitsville” is the closest the band has ever come to writing a traditionally catchy song, with Dreyer coming to life as a singer and exercising a little vocal swagger. The same can be said of “Stay Happy Here,” which hits hard musically and vocally but still contains moments where Dreyer sings where he may have chosen to scream if the song appeared on an earlier record.
Those who decry Dreyer for writing lyrics that are “too serious” probably love The Hotelier’s new record (“the sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable”), or heard Ghost Mice literally say that “there ain’t nothing wrong with trying to kill the President,” and thought nothing of it. (And you can’t tell me that the Ghost Mice line is tongue-in-cheek. That entire album deals in a very serious way with attitudes toward mental illness. There’s no way that “John and Jodie” wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, because the alternative is a song that makes mental illness sound like a cute inconvenience.) It seems that some think there is inherently a problem with writing only serious songs, but it seems to me that the problem is the same one that occurs in any genre: bad
songs. You can track the evolution of La Dispute very clearly from album to album, and there has never been an issue with their music that they haven’t easily overcome with the addition of a few more years of experience. But no matter how hard they try, no matter how sophisticated their music is now, they just can’t seem to shake the stigma of that goddamn medieval rock opera. Their art is imitating the life depicted in their art - always moving forward, never looking back, but still held by the chains of reputation.