I had no idea who Houses were until a few months ago, when “Fast Talk” finally made it onto the mainstream radio airwaves – or rather, when the alt rock stations started playing it on repeat. (Thanks, Channel 93.3 aka KTCL in Denver.)
Their Drugstore Heaven EP came out in September 2018, yet it only got a decent amount of attention once the sun went away, the snow started falling, and we all settled into the saddest season of the year. This isn’t a coincidence. For those of us who love emotionally heavy music, winter is when everyone else takes a few months to join us in our despair, grief, and angst. We all search for music to sooth us, to align with our feelings, to make sense of what’s going on around us.
It’s possible “Fast Talk” could have done well in the early heat of the summer, when June opens up that feeling of freedom and new beginnings. But it has done marvelously in the white, desolate freeze of winter. It’s the existential track of the year, crooning “we’re born to die young, but we’re trying to find a better way.” The drops are perfectly placed, the heavy bass like the weight on our hearts this time of year. Dexter Tortoriello’s scratchy vocals, backed by Megan Messina’s light and distant ones are soulmates to their instrumental mix of electronic samples, acoustic guitar, rattling drums, and wavy synths. This track is the perfection of heavy, dreamy electro-pop. Oh and the voicemail in the middle of it? That’s 100 percent real, from Tortoriello’s friend.
In complete contrast, “Left Alone” bursts from the starting gate with poppy optimism, bouncing along like a kid on a sugar high. Piano rock collides with indie pop for a tune that beats the opening single for my favorite track on the EP. Tortoriello belts the line, “Cause it ain’t you or anybody else’s business, what I do, I just want to be left alone,” with such glee and determination it becomes a mantra. I have now definitely sung along to this more than 15 times in my car, as loud as possible.
The production in this tune is not to be overlooked, as there are so many sonic moving parts that align beautifully to make it all a solid whole; catchier and more high quality in content than any Top-40 track out there today. Listen for the samples, for the tambourine, for the piano and synth that are equally mixed, for the strings, for all of it. Even in the depths of this dark season, “Left Alone,” in all its lyrically irony, has made me intensely, genuinely full of joy.
“Years” is the “filler” of this EP – which in this case, is not an insult to its quality. It’s just fast-paced, full of busy electronic samples and auto-tuned vocals. It feels like it’s trying to pass the time, and is the piece that doesn’t quite fit on this release. It’s good, it’s fun, and it’s in the vein of Houses’ sound – but it’s just on the wrong record to my ears. I’d be happy if they skipped immediately to “Pink Honey” and gave us a three-song EP.
Because “Pink Honey” is romantic, lush, and dynamic. It indulges on the timpani in the best way. It has dramatic rises and falls that I cannot get enough of. It’s the lovely complement to the first two tracks: neither too fast nor too slow, not too heavy and not too light. It’s everything this EP needs to leave you with that aching sigh in your chest and a tingle down your spine. “I keep on falling back into you. I keep on falling back cause I can’t get you out of my head,” Tortoriello sings, leaving everything on the table.
Tortoriello and Messina first released a song as Houses in 2010. It’s taken them two LPs, many singles, some EPs, and almost a decade to get noticed on major radio stations – and for me to find out about them. But if anything, Drugstore Heaven is a shining example of what can happen if you never give up on what you like doing, what you’re good at, or just what makes you happy. Because it may have taken them almost 10 years to meet and make these four songs. But because of that, their music will be a favorite for the rest of my life.
There has never been a better time to be in love with indie music and the musicians who create it. I write about and share what I discover because I find it difficult not to.