Canadian act Memoryhouse comprises self-professed classical music lover and composer Evan Abeele and photographer Denise Nouvion. According to the press release for debut new album on Sub Pop, ‘The Slideshow Effect’, their collaboration wasn’t initially intended to be musical in nature at all. Their original plan was to take their individuals strengths and join forces in an artistic outlet to combat the anxiety and boredom of the long, cold winter in the depths of frozen Southern Ontario. What instead occurred: they formed Memoryhouse, named after German-born English neo-classical composer/artist Max Richter’s own album of the same name and a massive influence of Abeele’s, and proceeded to use photographs as a starting point for a direction a song could be written towards. In an interview with Pitchfork, Abeele said of Richter’s work, “for me, in my musical development, there was a ‘before Memoryhouse’ and an ‘after Memoryhouse’…Hearing that fundamentally changed the way I approached composition. I just wanted to pay tribute to that. I wanted to have that to ground us, wherever we took our own music”.
I had not heard of Richter’s album before this, but I can say that for the purpose of this review, I didn’t consider it, and you shouldn’t need to either in order to appreciate it. It’s interesting to note Nouvion previously focused solely on photography, as there’s an expansiveness to the Memoryhouse sound, like looking at a breathtaking landscape. Nouvion’s voice is startling in its earnestness, and Abeele’s careful production isn’t heavy-handed at all, letting the songs breathe: all dream pop is marked with echo and reverb, but the effects used on ‘The Slideshow Effect’ never wear out their welcome and always feel like they were made for the songs they’re used on. Xylophone, which has become a more commonplace instrument in indie pop/rock over the last couple of years, never feels out of place like it does on some other bands’ records, where it can sound like a childish gimmick.
I expect other critics comparing them to Best Coast and Beach House are inevitable, but Memoryhouse’s songs are better and more memorable. And they’ve already given away two of the best songs on this album, which makes me think the duo is confident people will buy the album once they’ve heard these. ‘Walk With Me’ (previous MP3 of the Day here) is haunting in its beauty. It tells the story of a love lost that will never be forgotten but you can’t help but want to keep a hold of: “I can’t forget / the place this started / walk with me / will you walk with me?” ‘The Kids Were Wrong’ (previous MP3 of the Day here) and ‘Heirloom’ are jaunty and bracing as (dare I say it) a cold Canadian winter’s day.
But I go back to the comfort of Abeele’s production across the slower, more brooding numbers: ‘Little Expressionless Animals’ with its sorrowful violin, the slide guitar of ‘All Our Wonder’, the otherworldliness of Nouvion’s vocals in ‘Pale Blue’ all sound like perfection, wrapping you like the warm blanket your nan knitted for you when you were small. It’s definitely more of a sleepier, winter-type record, but seeing that we’re in February, that’s quite all right. Whether you’re a loner or you’re in a committed, loving relationship, this is the perfect antidote to any cold in your heart. Just as it was originally intended for the two people who made it.
Memoryhouse’s debut album ‘The Slideshow Effect’ is out today on Sub Pop.