If you’ve been combing the post-hardcore genre for the past seven or eight years or so the likelihood is that you will have come across La Dispute. Hailing from Michigan, the five-piece have forged a name for putting out emotive, meticulous and bold releases, creating a sound which effortlessly fuses elements of screamo, jazz, progressive rock and lead singer Jordan Dreyer’s captivating spoken word. However, what really highlights their existence as an important band is their ability to provoke without overt dramatics or unnecessary embellishment. The emotional ferocity which was at the heart of their music is what makes them so profound and memorable, this trait is best expressed on 2011’s Wildlife. Rooms of the House largely continues along the same path and allows its listeners to indulge in forty-five minutes of impassioned storytelling.
One of La Disputes most exciting features has always been Dreyer’s vocals. His raw and totally unrestricted approach in terms of lyrics and delivery is certainly something of an acquired taste, but warranted the praise heaped upon it by critics and fans alike. Thankfully, Dreyer’s performance continues on Rooms of the House, providing a dynamic that adds to each track on the album. My favourite song on the record, “First Reactions After Falling Through The Ice,” sounds like Dreyer is on the brink of a meltdown, his vocals flicking between exasperated to fragile and introverted in a performance of stunning fluidity. Elsewhere, as on tracks “Woman (in mirror)” and “Woman (reading),” Dreyer adopts a tender honesty which will be sure to spread ripples of sentiment within the most lead-hearted of listeners. His versatility and sincerity has been a formidable weapon in La Dispute’s arsenal, an asset they have managed to maintain in full force.
The progression between the first two La Dispute full lengths, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair and Wildlife, was something picked up on and praised as a notion of success for the band. Wildlife espoused a greater sense of maturity in the song-writing and projected in a higher resolution the many faces of La Dispute. Rooms of the House however doesn’t feel like the band has undergone the same sort of transition. The tracks are more refined and sound pristine, with producer Will Yip clearly putting in a shift. The record instead feels like La Dispute settled on the more conceptual aesthetics of Wildlife and decided to use that approach on Rooms of the House, with the character details and metaphorical ‘rooms of the house’ blended seamlessly into the songs, again testament to the strength of Dreyer’s lyrics. The various segments, from the decaying marriage described in “For Mayor in Splitsville” to the listing and description of various objects our narrator has laid out on the floor and the stories attached in “Objects in Space,”make the album tangible, something you can follow and appreciate as it develops. It gives Rooms of the House an aspect which is almost sensory, with each track entertaining its own position within the album as a whole, and is something the band have clearly worked hard on to perfect.
Where Rooms of the House peaks however is in the manner with which the tracks present a sense of emotional sincerity, whether it be in the form of frustration, sadness or reflection. “Stay Happy There,” a track released earlier this year, imports you into the anguished mindset of our narrator as he dictates his crumbling relationship, putting it down to things such as ‘maybe we were never cut out for the Midwest life,’ struggling to accept the situation at hand. Dreyer’s delivery is fit to match, and the result is a character profile which you can’t help but be fascinated by. “Woman (reading)” is another such track, and one of my favourites on the record. Our character reminisces on memories of a woman reading, the imagery and memories depicted laced with nostalgia and loss, culminating in the evocative ‘I remember it so well, watching you shifting your weight, turning the page’ before its stomping, charged ending. The poetic character descriptions and provoking instrumentation are La Dispute’s defining traits, and the emotional bite they have is truly wonderful to experience.
Rooms of the House qualifies La Dispute’s position as a band that is making unique inroads in today’s music scene. They refuse to comply with a specific genre or curtail on the success of a certain style, but continue to define their own special way of making music. The conceptual side of their sound has been improved upon and, while at times they seem to have given this priority over the more direct nature of their music which I loved so much, it does give the album as a whole a greater sense of tangibility, making it a more immersive experience. That isn’t to say La Dispute have gone soft, as most of the tracks here still hit hard, holding no punches in their desire to leave a profound emotional impression. The impact is indeed less imprinted at times than would have been desired, but it detracts little from the success Rooms of the House is. It reflects an important band continuing to blaze their own exclusive trail, and leaves it audience in intense anticipation as to where it’s going to go next.