La Dispute could be accused of being too straightforward in their emotional narratives, unafraid of pouring every emotion, relationship, opinion and reason for writing inside of their work. But to claim this negates all the subtlety and precision in how the stories are told, and how music and voice are used to inflect emotional highs and lows.
Hailing from Grand Rapids, Mich., the five-piece has long been praised by those in the know, but ignored by many of the taste-making magazines and websites. The reason is likely the tendency to label their music screamo, though it is more accurate to call it post-hardcore, a genre that has long been accepted into the canon, be it Fugazi or Refused or At the Drive-In. This emotionally captivating album makes a case for more “screamo,” or whatever this is, because it is both affecting and challenging.
Last year saw Touche Amore find success in a similar look, but La Dispute’s third career album, titled Rooms of the House, is more ambitious and affecting than their contemporaries’ strong release. In part, the concept of the album is central to why, a surprise because concept albums so easily drift into self-indulgence or overwrought inflexibility. But Rooms of the House is simpler, connecting the events that happen in a place to the people who currently inhabit that space. There is a fluidity of time at play. Near the end of the album, on “Woman (Reading),” in which The Dismemberment Plan creeps into the influence spectrum, Dreyer lays it out in a moment of striking clarity, singing “Sometimes I think of all the people that lived here before us, how the spaces in the memories you make change your room from just blueprints to the place where you live.”
Thinking about this concept, and the question of what is left behind from the events that happen in a space, there are physical clues, but the events generally just stay with us as memories, and Arcade Fire’s excellent “Afterlife” comes to mind, as they are asking similar questions: “When love dies, where does it go?”
Closer “Objects in Space” is spoken word over gentle electric guitar melodies, recalling the turn-of-the-century indie rock that existed hand-in-hand with post-hardcore. Dreyer waxes not on the most immediate thing, but on the lingering effects of what is lost and the things we hold onto that maybe are better to let go. It’s a profoundly effective poem, nostalgic and seemingly personal, the word “objects” and “space” sticking out painfully, reminders that these concepts are not people and are not the events that they remind us of, but they hold the transportive power to take us back, or to a dream we had, to a love that might be hard to remember unless you hold a specific postcard or read a letter. They are powerful, but only so much as we allow them to be, with Dreyer ultimately deciding to box up the past, leave it somewhere to be forgotten, for someone else to find. Unless, of course, something does stay behind in a metaphysical sense.
It’s all heavy stuff and not for everyone, but the emotions evoked are life-affirming and induce memories of the listener, becoming its own “object in space” in a way. La Dispute have raised their own bar at the time when a more broad audience is likely to pay attention. Or, in other words, La Dispute picked a perfect time to make a classic album in the post-hardcore spectrum that might be considered a classic outside of genre, too.