When I first heard “Such Small Hands” by the band La Dispute back in 2010, I was blown away by the eclectic blend of poetry-grade lyrics, their relatively heavy sound, and the emotionally-driven style of lead singer Jordan Dreyer’s vocals. That song and the rest of the album “Somewhere at the Bottom of the River between Vega and Altair” are my favorite releases by the band. Now, the quintet from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is back with another full-length album. Released March of this year, “Rooms of the House” sufficiently separates the band from their first full-length release with a cleaner, more mature sound.
If you’re anything like me, you’re sad to see the sounds of “Somewhere at the Bottom” fade away. But the changes were evident even in the band’s second release “Wildlife”, which in my opinion, is a solid middle ground between the band’s first album and this latest one. Change, however, isn’t something to fear as La Dispute’s roots and defining characteristics are still there. The vocals are still emotional and passionate and they still have their critically acclaimed “un-categorizable sound” that fuses many influences of different heavier genres and even outside styles like blues and jazz on previous albums, along with their tension-building compositions–a La Dispute staple.
While many that have already reviewed the album call it “mature”, I say that it is in fact just much more simple than their previous releases. More than in Wildlife, Rooms of the House loses some of the lucid symbolism that I thought was their best feature from Somewhere at the Bottom. Instead, the band replaces this with more straightforward emotional feedback and sheds its literary symbolism. Still, Dreyer is an excellent writer and this shows within the band’s lyrics as they compose songs with imagery and narrative, which can be seen clearly in the album’s opening song “Hudsonville, MI 1956” and another song titled “35” which also exhibits Dreyer’s spoken word style (dominant in the songs “Woman (in Mirror)” and “Objects in Space” too.) My personal favorites of the album are standouts “Mayor of Splitsville” and “Stay Happy Here” which is one of the album’s singles. It seems that, more in this album, the band unfortunately scaled back their out-wright heart wrenching preferences like in their past songs “King Park” and “Andria.”
Except for some songs like “Woman (in mirror)” and “Objects in Space”, the songs on this album are structured around a basic crescendo as most songs by La Dispute are. Listeners become familiar with the areas where tension builds by following the vocals and the band as they lead up to culminate in some emotional outburst—sort of like a pattern of calms before a strong storm—rather than relying on verse/chorus structures. On this album, there aren’t many gaudy riffs, that has never seemed to be the intention of the band on any of their albums anyway. The riffs and melodies in their songs always seem mainly foundational especially in this latest album where the band seems to take a more simplistic style. They rely more on strong rhythmic variations to capture their audience. There isn’t anything flashy to cling onto. Just pure and strong instrumental use and deep, emotional lyrics.
Even though it’s not the Somewhere at the Bottom of the River follow-up that I wished for over these last 4 years, Rooms of the House is still a great album that simply shows the evolving style of a very talented band that never disappoints.
– Alli G.