Album Review: Memoryhouse – The Slideshow Effect




Memoryhouse are a contrarian kind of proposition, careworn, yet relevant; beautiful yet faded, with their sound relying on a melding of nostalgia and modernity. “Little Expressionless Animals” contains a strained, eerie atmosphere, with the layering of vocals suggesting a tired kind of beauty. It’s present in Denise Nouvion’s voice, and aided by the sound of the violin, which wafts in and out like a wayward dove. The song has a clattering kind of beauty, which partly describes the whole record, since there is a looseness, and an eclectic set of influences present, particularly shoegaze and ambient music – evident on The Years EP from over a year ago, and distinctly fleshed out on The Slideshow Effect, their first full-length record.

Quite often they are compared to Beach House, but they inhabit very different worlds, and though both are sometimes described as “dream pop”, both bands version of dreaming takes them to very different places. Memoryhouse are, as their name suggests, nostalgic and cosy, inviting and earthy; they are not necessarily bringing us to a different world, but casting a radiance on the world we already know, exploring a sense of wonder about the everyday. This is achieved in many different ways, the urgent drums on “The Kids Were Wrong”, and Evan Abeel’s robust guitar giving a sense of necessity about things, encouraging the person Nouvion sings of to stop “hiding in daydreams”.

However, daydreams are the landscape of Memoryhouse’s world, and they deftly weave not only different atmospheres, but paces; as soon as the urgency of “The Kids Were Wrong” stops, “All Our Wonder” slows things down to a lethargic crawl, with frail glockenspiel, warm guitars and Nouvion singing that there should be “no more silence”. “Punctum” is a wrenching song that starts with plucking acoustic guitar, and words that act like a thesis for the whole record – “it’s not enough to live your past”, she sings, as they sprint into “Heirloom” which is far less dusty than the title suggests, and where the guitars sparkle, insistent and swooping.

Sometimes Nouvion’s vocal, which is so pure (the vocal equivalent of an azur-coloured lake), recalls Sarah Cracknell of St. Etienne (in a small sense), but the atmosphere is very different, with “Bonfire” confirming the free-flowing creativity that suggests the band are as at home in the world of folk or alt-country, as they are in dream pop. Nouvion’s vocal sounds so true, regardless of the style of the song, and this honesty lends a comforting aspect to proceedings, it is perhaps what would have happened if Miss Honey from Roald Dahl’s Matilda had had her heart broken and decided to make music.

“Pale Blue” makes great use of strings once more, melding them with a subtle, shadowy guitar sound, producing a mesmerising effect, and where the clatter becomes a caress, continuing on “Walk With Me”, which shares something of a common ground with Future Islands’ “The Great Fire” with its hazy, emotive opening that suggests something important is about to take place. “I rest your head on my shoulder,” Nouvion sings, with a reappearance of the glistening glockenspiel, and the slow emergence of Abeel’s guitars, which eventually step into the light, acting as another kind of narrator.

An earthy, everyday narrative frames the record, yet becomes philosophical in “Kinds of Light”, and, being the most reflective of songs, encourages an equally reflective sound, with a glacial, driving piano melody that provides an anchor to the pursuit. Yet, its layered nature provides a soft but dense landing for a tough subject, with a coda of sorts provided in “Old Haunts”, which delicately wrestles with the self-doubt that can cripple, and the indecision that can destroy. “When will we know it’s enough,” Nouvion reluctantly sings. Behind him, Abeel’s cascading guitars act as a murmuring response, the kind that hints at the growing, complex, beyond “everyday” future Memoryhouse are looking toward.

Essential Tracks: “The Kids Were Wrong”, “Kinds of Light”, and “Old Haunts”