Rating: 2.75/5For their debut full-length The Slideshow Effect, Ontario-based dream pop outfit Memoryhouse shed the languid expressionistic expanse of 2011’s The Years EP for a tighter, more controlled approach. Besides clarity and a greater focus on conventional pop songcraft over simply setting the mood, though, there’s one more thing the duo, which began as a multimedia collaboration between composer Evan Abeele and photographer Denise Nouvion (later the group’s vocalist), bring to Slideshow Effect – a loose conceptual unity, predicated on running motifs, that is almost compelling enough to keep the record from backsliding into tidy preciousness. Through a muddled middle section and several achingly slow, lackluster and ultimately forgettable odes, however, the effort is not sufficient.
Where the band most fully embrace their chosen motifs – recursive summertime memories, long-ago farewells, slowly unfolding evening hours, the rosy parables of youth captured in a faded photo – and couch them in evocative strings, bubbly, wobbly guitar and tight percussive rounds, the results are satisfying. But even in the strongest of the record’s showings there are difficulties crowding the margins. Lead-offs “Little Expressionless Animals” and “The Kids Were Wrong” provide cases in point: the former’s fluttering effects and lackadaisical rhythms counter synths that plod and harmonies that don’t quite pop; the latter, with an intro of decidedly New Order proportions and style, can’t quite rise above its own melody, trapped in cycles of unremarkably repetitive bars and measures.
Together, the two would be a running summary for a stronger record. Indeed, after “Animals” opens up, the drone of its guitar chips away at the quiescent scene the duo has constructed as Nouvion understatedly croons, “I can feel this place becoming what it never was/ Do we embrace the hours, as if we never lost/ One lonely resignation.” By the time she resignedly concludes, “I won’t follow you back home,” the slideshow effect is in full force. “Kids,” too, is a noble piece of structured dream pop, unpacking itself in layers of distilled nostalgia heaped on like Adobe Illustrator filters and “Bodies slack and pressed beneath the hour in your eyes/ Fingernails and cold skin, your parents’ bed we lay in/ Arms outstretched to emptiness, the space you left behind.”
The same can’t be said for most of the rest of The Slideshow Effect, however, with the exception of the closer, “Old Haunts,” a perambulating bookend unfolding like a Slowdive Souvlaki cut, building slowly, dissipating and then returning in force. Here, Abeele’s loping guitar most similarly plumbs the same murky depths as last year’s EP and Nouvion’s vocal turn is an effective partner. The simple folk of “Punctum,” too, is an attempt, through recursive Mojave 3-style yawns of lap steel, at the same effect, and works to an extent. But “All Our Wonder” comes out sloppy, pedestrian and unexceptional, even unto the repetitions of, “No more silencing me.” The swaying “Heirloom,” whirling about in circulatory guitar chords and expressive acoustic, can’t achieve quite the force of the Beach House cuts it most closely resembles. “Bonfire” drags on, save for its expansive bridge, waves lapping around a mournful guitar; “Pale Blue,” despite strings careful and heavy with trepidation, comes out flat; and the clumsy, conventionally-tuned “Walk With Me” could be a Christian radio anthem. And line overruns, the distinct sense that Nouvion and Abeele are cramming too many syllables into each delivery, plague more than a few of the album’s turns.
Two verses in later cut “Kinds of Light” sum up the aesthetic of Memoryhouse’s The Slideshow Effect best: “I can’t see your face amongst these waves/ The more I look the more you fade.” When the photo in question is less a fading Polaroid, more a Hipstamatic snap, and each track bounces around in a cookie cutter frame, the outcome is not always memorable. As it happens, The Slideshow Effect, for all the appeal of life spent “hiding in daydreams,” is primarily a somnambulant one.