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‘A Good Place To Start’

In Album Reviews, Celebrate Your Scene, New Jersey on March 22, 2011 at 8:05 am

The idea and experience of ‘home’ is the focus and, appropriately, the title of the new EP by Ridgewood, New Jersey’s (and, occasionally, SUNY Purchase’s) Spook Houses. This theme is pervasive throughout this fantastic four track (soon-to-be) seven-inch, but this subject is no stranger to this band, who put out one of my favorite albums/EPs of last year, Real Ghosts / Pretend Ghosts (which Steve posted here way back in the summer). Both releases start with the same song, ‘Home’, though this newly recorded version is better – with stronger vocals, a faster pace, and nicer guitar sound. Lyrically, this release, as the one before, is top-notch. It evokes a strong sentiment of home, a feeling of temporary (retrospective and future) satisfaction. “Home is,” as the opening track lays out, “a good place to start,” but it is also “alright, to stay at home,” suggesting two distinct, but overlapping, concepts of home. One being a place to grow and the other a good place to simmer and settle. I think this understanding is pretty spot on.

As a child you spend a good amount of your time at home, developing interpersonal connections and a sense of self. Then there is some teenage rejection of the idea of home because it represents the kind of stability and atmosphere that is undesirable for some in the formative years of developing a sense of individuality and non-familial community. After this, when you have to find your own place to live, a renewed sense of appreciation for home can come along with it because it becomes a place where you can return to after all the bullshit of the day, and so you can “soak your limbs” and relax. This sentiment is felt strongly in the refrain from ‘Old Bones’ where they repeat, “make a new home,” followed by “you can’t expect to grow until you abandon all you know.” Your childhood home is not where you’re going to spend your later years. At least, not on an emotional level. Even if the physical place remains the same, the psychological structure of the home changes as you get older. That is why so many people move out as a teenager, or twenty-something – to change their external scenery to accommodate their internal changes. Movies upon movies have been made about this kind of thing (and people returning home), and song after song written. But there’s something about this band’s voice (as in – manner of songwriting) that is wholly unique on the subject.

What is especially interesting is that the principal songwriters, David Benton and Colin Alexander, both seem rather young (ages 19 and/or 20, I believe) to be professing their strong appreciation for home. This feeling, though, is something I can fully sympathize with. There have been countless times when I have been out somewhere at night and all I really wanted to do was go home. It does not quite matter if the satisfaction desired is met, but just that there is somewhere you can go to end the day is appealing. There is an endearing sense of home that is fully developed in the last song, ‘Walking At Night’, which is that “it is nice to walk familiar roads.” This desire for comfort is, I believe, the unifying factor between the different concepts and uses of home. The comfort comes from the fact that you could never leave your home and, theoretically, live your life reasonably. It is the place where you eat and sleep and watch TV and go on your computer and play music and even have people over. Leaving home can be seen as only a temporary departure to prevent boredom. Waking up and getting yourself set for the day is the childhood years, leaving home is the teenage years, and returning at night (and the desire to) is the adult years. But this happens over and over again, consistently throughout your life. And your home will likely change several times along the way. Spook Houses have again perfectly captured the simplicity and complexity of the idea of home that they had already developed so well in their debut.

There are other lyrical themes, such as nature, the road, and the conflicting persona of the sarcastic teenager and the responsible person that really wants to come out. Lyrically and musically, one of the band’s strongest influences continues to be Liam The Younger, especially his most recent release Revel Hidden Worlds. The two artists share similar (amazing) guitar tones and have a knack for combining themes of humanistic beauty (the joy of others’ company, and people in general) with natural beauty, and the desire to appreciate it alone. It is no surprise that these two musicians grew up mere miles apart (and just a few years apart), Liam being from Glen Rock, the town right beside Ridgewood, where these gentlemen call home. Their take on the suburban experience in many ways outshines the Arcade Fire’s most recent release, The Suburbs, in that listening to Spook Houses feels more like home than the former’s album does. This band can evoke the feeling of walking through my hometown and the way that it makes you feel small, while also feeling a little too big to be there. While the Arcade Fire impeccably portrayed the sense of nostalgia that home can evoke, Spook Houses speak with honesty and accuracy to the feeling of home that is constructed in people’s mind. It is the notion of home that people, myself included, actually hold internally – with all the subjectivity of the deeply invested individual’s very personal, and yet, to some degree, universal experience. Home, and all it encompasses, is both a social and very individualistic aspect of life, both of which – and the overlap between the two – are captured perfectly by Spook Houses on their newest release, The Home EP.

___

The Home EP 7″ is set to come out ‘on or around 09 May 2011’. It is self-released and can be pre-ordered for $7+shipping, as well as listened to in full right now, right here. Also, be sure to check out their first release, Real Ghosts / Pretend Ghosts, which is another nearly perfect record. Finally, be sure to check out their myspace because they occasionally post new songs before they are quite finished, often acoustic versions, and they are always great. Enjoy.

Matt May (with the help of Ethan Scholl)

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