La Dispute - Rooms of the House
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Record Label: Better Living/Staple
April 3rd, 1956. Winds rattled coffee makers. Then windows. Then houses, cars. An F5 tornado touches down around 6:30 PM, in Vriesland, Michigan, just southwest of Grand Rapids, only 10 miles shy of Hudsonville, Michigan. This tornado will go on to cause immense amounts of destruction to Hudsonville, Standale and areas of Grand Rapids. An entire town torn apart, houses ripped from their foundations, cars torn to pieces beyond recognition, and 18 lives lost. This is the setting of the first story on La Dispute’s Rooms of the House.
Rooms of the House, La Dispute’s third full-length, follows a fictional couple going through the worst trials of their relationship near its pitiful end. Album opener “Hudsonville, MI 1956” features crashing guitar chords and a booming bass line, revolving around the wife of the story. She visits her family in Terra Haute, Indiana where a tornado warning is in effect, while another tornado torments her husband in Hudsonville, Michigan. The wife persistently calls her husband and desperately urges he pick up. Vocalist Jordan Dreyer’s urgent delivery adds to the tense sonic atmosphere. This potent beginning’s climax comes when Dreyer proclaims, “I could see lightning there in the funnel cloud / and her mother said / “I swear I saw lightning in your eyes when the call got through to the other side”. There is a sigh of relief is Dreyer urges the listener to “stay calm” and “keep down.”
Throughout Rooms of the House, it’s clear that La Dispute have adopted a more direct, no-frills approach to their style of music. The band wrote the album over the course of a month spent isolated in a cabin in northern Michigan. By adopting the ‘less is more’ philosophy, the quintet undertakes a much more barebones style of writing appropriate for the daunting stories that present themselves in ROTH. The instrumentals, while less intricate and complex than Wildlife, expertly complement Dreyer’s vocals and are an immensely crucial aspect to what makes ROTH so gorgeous.
The dramatic third track, “Woman (In Mirror)” serves as a precursor to the album’s later ideas. A smooth, clean guitar and bass combo courtesy of Chad Sterenberg, Kevin Whittemore and Adam Vass introduce Dreyer’s somber spoken word vocals. He speaks of “All the motions of ordinary love” in relation to the rooms of a house and the simple interactions in a once love-struck relationship now turned dark and empty. Sterenberg and Whittemore’s simple yet prevalent guitar work exemplify the soothing effect “Woman (In Mirror)” has.
“Stay Happy There” and “For Mayor in Splitsville” were the two singles from ROTH and both made many very antsy about the new La Dispute. Through the more forceful guitar work on “Stay Happy There” and the more down-tempo, relaxed sounds on “For Mayor in Splitsville”, the two singles accurately portray the darker and lighter sounds, respectively. There’s not a more fitting lyric on this album than when Dreyer yells, “But I guess, in the end / we adjust the furniture around” towards the bitter end of “For Mayor in Splitsville”.
On the other side of the LP is “Woman (Reading)”, the previously mentioned track’s counterpart. Carrying the same melodic, clear tone, “Woman (Reading)” is the more revealing of the two, and the most revealing track on the album. “Sometimes I think of all the people who lived here before us / how the spaces in the memories you make change your room from just blueprints / to the place where you live” communicates La Dispute’s message as straight-forward as possible. Drummer Brad Vander Lugt works together with Sterenberg, Whittemore and Vass to create a mystifying sonic atmosphere lead by delicate guitar tones.
Every track, every story found on this LP connects to one another, whether through simple similarities such as the struggle of trying to kick in a windshield found on “Hudsonville, MI 1956” and “35” or the more tragic theme on “Hudsonville, MI 1956”, “Scenes From Highways 1981 – 2009” and “The Child We Lost 1963.” The tight-knit flow on the album further ties ROTH together as a concept piece, intertwining the stories and scenes within itself through the use of metaphors and references.
This album isn’t about the rooms of a house. It’s about the objects that inhabit the rooms, and objects outside of the rooms, outside of the house. It’s about the history that inhibits these objects and the interconnectivity of your past and your present and your future. It’s about how even when you leave or they leave or it breaks, there’s still something there, nothing ever disappears completely. Yet, to borrow from one of Dreyer’s poems found on the internet years ago, “nothing ever stays the same it once was”. It’s the law of conservation of energy. Nothing gets lost and nothing gains, it’s just constant change. It’s about the guitar my dad gave my brother and my brother gave me and the story it carries. It’s all sentimental, but it’s real.
The thing about every La Dispute release is while there is an intended message, it’s still entirely open to interpretation, and your guess is as good as mine. Rooms of the House shows La Dispute put together their most unwavering release to date. Sit down, think about your past but don’t forget about your future and listen to this record, form your own opinion, and get back to me.
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