Review Summary: Life/All of its languages here
What do artists owe us？ Do they owe us anything？ There's always a certain suspension of belief, isn't there？ How do we draw the line between artifice and art, and what gives us the right to decide？ La Dispute has always been a supremely literal band, reveling in the angst and anguish of the over-share, leaving very little to interpretation. Panorama
made me grapple with all of these questions, explore what my intentions are as a listener. I was so disappointed by these songs: the lack of drama, the lack of specificity and motion. There seemed to be something fundamentally missing, an emptiness at its core that I couldn't put my finger on. I listened to the ambling ambience of "In Northern Michigan" and felt bored and left out, the drawn out table-setting of "You Ascendant" leaving me impatient and frustrated.
God, I was wrong. I was greedy. After a 5 year wait, I needed La Dispute to come back with a big, bold masterpiece, innovation and emoting I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams. After the explosive theatrics of Wildlife
and the obsessively detailed Rooms of the House
is an audible downshift. It finds the band embracing subtlety more than I would have ever thought possible, burrowing inward as ever but to different effect. This album derives as much power from what it chooses not to share as from what it does; you can figure out the gaping trauma at the center of "Rhodonite and Grief", but the specifics are hauntingly absent, leaving you to mull over all of the agonizing possibilities. Contrast this with "I See Everything" and the growth is undeniable. This album is wily and graceful, never quite fully showing its hand until the very end.
I'll get to that ending, which is so pivotal, in a moment, but first: the music. The band likewise embraces a less is more approach musically, impressionistic songwriting that came off as uninspired instead revealing itself to be perfectly fitting, complimenting Jordan Dreyer without being simple window dressing. Highlights abound: the jazzy, gorgeous "Rhodonite and Grief", fluttery horns and droning guitar melting into a big band climax, or the staggering "There You Are (Hiding Place)", only needing uncomplicated chords played simply and powerfully to leave a lasting impact. After a dense opening of forceful chords, yawning guitar and pounding drums, "View From Our Bedroom Window" consists of a catchy lead riff and an impassioned vocal performance and not much else, and it works wonderfully. There's been a lot of complaints about the production, which buries Dreyer and sometimes even instruments, but I can't shake the feeling that this is a very deliberate choice and a crucial facet of the album's personality. Panorama
is shadowy and murky, keeping some things to itself, and this production only underlines that.
It all leads to "You Ascendant", which is about as perfect of a closer as this album could have. Here, finally, Dreyer is beautifully unguarded, giving voice to all of his deepest desires and fears. It is hands down the most intimate song in the bands catalogue since "The Last Lost Continent", taking that song's gale force emotion and paring it down into something radically bare and fragile. It's the most plainspoken and uncomplicated performance of Dreyer's career thus far, vocally and lyrically. There are rises in intensity but no true climax, no grand finale, and the lyrics astutely address this, asking straightforward questions about the meaning of death, of how it can inform life and devotion and meaning in anything and everything. These questions are framed for Dreyer and his partner and nobody else, like listening in on a conversation you're catching the end of. I longed to be included, until I realized this album isn't meant for us, and that's okay. It's for Jordan Dreyer, showing life in all of its languages, through all its seasons of grief, finally finding a hard earned happiness. Dim the lights, relax and listen in.