La Dispute‘s most recent album Rooms of the House was released in 2014, and initially I wasn’t much of a fan. It was too soft compared to the last two albums and wasn’t as exciting; but then I kept listening. However, over time the lyrics and the record began to resonate with me, and it’s now my all-time favourite album. It’s not meant to be exciting instrumentally, but it is enthralling lyrically. The quieter, softer tones are aligned with the domesticity of the themes of the album. Some of the events within are based on occurrences within Michigan and elsewhere, but instead of the second-hand retelling seen in Wildlife, frontman Jordan Dreyer creates characters who experience these events first hand. The album focuses around a fictional couple, and the decay of their relationship. I describe the tone as ‘domestic’ because that is a central theme – ordinary and homely activities such as making coffee, getting dressed and reading in the living room are focused on throughout each tale – it conveys how ordinary actions can have so much meaning. The house in which they live and all the objects inside of it are integral parts of this relationship and the album as Jordan analyses the meanings they carry.
The opening song ‘HUDSONVILLE MI 1956′ centres around a tornado which plagued the named town, and how the couple become separated from each other and go through the natural disaster in terror worrying for each other’s safety. This is one of the most high-energy songs in the album, becoming increasingly intense as the tornado rises. This first track acts well as an introduction of the key themes of the album, with the random constant mention of coffee cups and the complexity of the couple’s relationship and what’s to come – finishing on the line “there are moments of collapse”.
‘Rooms of the House’ revels in the ordinary nature of life, and the significance within those ordinary moments. Within the relationship Dreyer focuses strongly on the platonic calming nature of their daily routines, having dinner parties with friends, watching his wife do her make-up or reading a book. These themes are key within ‘woman (in mirror)’ and ‘woman (reading)’. But while he is enthralled with her existence within his life, she’s notably growing distant. As described in ‘SCENES FROM HIGHWAYS 1981-2009′, she wants to go somewhere away from the ordinary motion of life, she cannot stand the constant movement and events which occur, she needs stillness. This puts a severe strain on their relationship, as they both try to solve these issues, feeling as if walking on ice together unsure on where it thins, on the constant edge of breaking through and collapsing. ‘Major in Splitsville’ relays Jordan’s characters been warned of the inevitability of marital collapse, and he doesn’t want to accept it. When the relationship does start decaying, they attempt to fix it – they’ve spent so much time together building this collection of items and memories contained within their house, but after all the bickering and discussion nothing is solved, they’re just “moving furniture around”.
It’s interesting that Rooms of the House isn’t in chronological order. We see glimpses of this relationship’s timeline in a jumbled order, unsure on where it stands, just as Dreyer never really knows what state it’s in.
The songs ‘35′ and ‘THE CHILD WE LOST 1963′ are separate from the album’s focus on the relationship, with the latter song retelling Dreyer’s grandmothers reaction to her miscarriage. It’s a personal tale not in-keeping with the half-fictionalised accounts of the album, but it adds a more personal essence of emotional impact. ‘35′on the other hand retells Dreyer’s character watching a news broadcast of the I-35W bridge collapse in Missouri which killed 13 and injured 145. He stares at the screen questioning if those in the collapse knew what was happening, did they hear the wires snap? This relates directly to his anxiety about the possible collapse of his marriage at that point, he attempts to feel what these people are feeling in this tragedy, the pain and the fear. Once the newscast finishes though, he’s left alone and no longer connected to those in the catastrophe, he’s drawn back to reality as he realises the rent is still late, and he may not be in the bridge collapse, but his foundation is decaying.
‘Woman (reading)’ is the track which best encompasses the themes of the album. The first half focuses on the main character’s adoration of his wife in her very being, he sees the poetry in her simplest movements within their shared home. He then leads to questioning the meaning of the rooms of the house, why they’re named as they are – is it the blueprints or their own design? Halfway through, the atmosphere dramatically changes as it shifts to take place after their breakup, where Dreyer’s character avoids many rooms within his house because they remind him of these memories, he questions whether she ever thinks of him, ever turns her head in the breeze under the slight hope he’s there, when she’s reading alone does she look for him? The “memories echo” in the house, with any and every object continuously evoking memories of her.
The penultimate track ‘Extraordinary Dinner Party’ takes place after the relationship has ended, Dreyer’s character is left alone in the house, and the silence that his partner had always longed for has encompassed the neighbourhood. The emptiness brings up a series of memories for Dreyer’s character and he reflects on his refusal to move on with his life, leading onto the final track, one that rings most powerful and daunting: ‘Objects in Space’. This track is depressive, Dreyer’s character finally packing away all the objects of the house. The song radiates an existential aura surrounding our place in the universe, about how when these objects are gone, they lose all meaning. When Dreyer’s character dies, all these meaningful objects that bring up memories of his life and his wife will no longer hold significance to anyone. It’s a fitting conclusion to the album, solemn and final. The relationship is over and he’s moving on, albeit after a long time of difficulty and resistance. As someone who is constantly reflecting on my own history and pathway in this life, this album holds a very special place. I keep trinkets and objects relating to friends I lost long ago, whether through arguments or through just falling apart, despite these little objects being meaningless to everyone else, I keep them because they remind me of my place in this life and the experiences that have brought me to where I am now.
The mnemonic power objects possess is a universal experience, as is the experience of obsessively reflecting on the past and our significance within this history, which is why I believe Rooms of the House has potential to be an album universally appealing to all – it revels in the everyday motions and how it brings us closer to those we love, but the longing for something extraordinary has the potential to tear people apart – but that’s not always a negative thing. While Dreyer’s character has issues in moving on, as all of us do, it was ultimately the best thing for these people as they wanted different things. Within the objects we possess we still carry the memories of those we loved and lost, those memories are undeniable, but it’s important to be able to recognise these as a past stage in our timeline, build from the memories and the objects to greater appreciate the live you have after the end
Rooms of the House is available now via Big Scary Monsters