Memoryhouse does dream pop, a genre name that is relatively self-explanatory, but which requires more than saying the obvious, which is that dream pop is pretty dreamy. It’s not music to be played especially loudly, and it’s not something so much that you listen to as absorb.
But the best way to explain is that listening to dream pop is a lot like staring at a stark, empty landscape for several minutes. At first you simply see nothing, maybe feel the wind blowing, or catch the glare from the sun. After several seconds, though, your eyes adjust, and you start noting little things, a tree here, a wisp of a cloud there. Things start coming into focus, and what seemed before to be a lot of nothing, turns out to be filled with somethings.
That’s the closest I can get to describing the Memoryhouse sound, and it’s bewitching. It takes a while to get into, and a few more listens than I’m usually willing to give to an album I don’t immediately take to. Even after repeated plays, the first three tracks don’t stand out: they are a form of sonic palette cleanser. But it’s the calm before the storm, the expressionless sky before the lightening strikes. “Punctum” lopes along at a gentle pace, but with a lovely, soothing melody. “Heirloom” emerges with an especially catchy melody. It is hard to say whether the songs would pack such a punch if we weren’t slowly led up to them by the album’s unremarkable beginning. And to appreciate them, you have to be paying attention. This isn’t easy listening, in any sense of that phrase.
The remainder of the album comfortably falls from the peak at the middle. They are sleepy, but they aren’t pretending to be anything else. The plaintive cry of “we’re not alone,” which sounds more like a question than a statement, at the end of “Pale Blue” is particularly moving. “Walk with Me” has the umph to be a particularly successful single; it stands on its own, which is both a plus or a minus. The songs in the second half have a way of building on and complimenting one another.
But the final songs do confirm a sneaking impression that the first half of the album only suggests: the vocalist, Denise Nouvion, sounds a heck of a lot like Zooey Deschanel. For me, this is unfortunate, as I tired of Zoe after She & Him Vol. 1., and to hear Nouvion singing “let’s get cold together,” puts one in mind of the She & Him Christmas album. If only Nouvion had gotten there first, there wouldn’t be the bad memories. There are, though, shades of Keran Ann to counterbalance the sound of Zoe.
This is an album for the patient, who are willing, as the title of the album suggests, to sit through a slide show made by someone you don’t really know that well. This entails the risk of slipping into sleep, but at the same time, if one remains alert and awake, of hearing something really pretty special.