Griffin House’s shaggy horse-like mane, seven o’clock shadow, broad shoulders and ill-fitting thrift store T’s may have Pete Yorn groupies mistakenly soliciting him for autographs on the streets of his Nashville hometown, but the two are (musically-speaking) hardly brothers of another mother. While Yorn specializes in the kind of snarling angst-filled pop-rock that thrives on a certain fashion-conscious emotional detachment, House chooses to remain fully present in each song, unafraid to engage his own sentiment and deliver it with unabashed conviction.
The 24-year-old Ohio native—who started receiving calls from interested New York labels shortly after pressing 50 copies of The Never Sessions, a limited-run EP that later evolved into the impressive independent full-length Upland—has finally shaken off his wariness of dotted lines and hitched his star to Nettwerk Management (Sarah McLachlan, Ron Sexsmith, David Mead). That House was in so little hurry to swallow the A&R “next big thing” line, choosing to focus instead on making music until a sensible deal came along, says a lot about the songwriter’s priorities. And this peculiar level-headedness may account for the disarming lack of artifice surrounding the songs on his newest project, Lost & Found.
The opening cut, “Amsterdam,” patiently eases out of the gates amid shimmering ambient noise, the song’s ascending/descending melody plucked deliberately and fed through a heavy delay. This seductively hypnotic part (compliments of dread-locked guitar virtuoso Paul Moak) establishes the mood of the entire project; in fact, you don’t hear the first signs of House’s gently pulsing acoustic strum until nearly a minute into the song, his initial vocals trailing by another 45 seconds. You’ll love it. Radio won’t. But, ladies and gentlemen, I suppose it’s time we address that woozy sense of unnameable vertigo you’re experiencing. In short, a singer/songwriter who’s even elected to slap his Christian name on the album cover, is furtively attempting to pass off his label debut as a band project. A duplicitous move, to be sure, but even more so because the band in question unquestionably deserves co-billing. Tom Petty’s songs break your heart for a reason.
Gross inequities aside, if House and guitarist Moak continue making music together, the pair could, over time, develop into next-generation torch-bearers of the Bono/Edge musical partnership. Moak’s got the pedals, the chops and the ingenuity to create astonishing—nay, transcendent—soundscapes; while House’s charismatic vocals and raspy, unselfconsciously bellowed ad libs (most notably displayed on the redemption-focused closer “New Day”) imbue the songs with a keening, almost spiritual fervor which pervades the rest of the disc. “I am torn in the middle of a world that won’t let loose / I hang here before you, though invisible the noose,” House sings in “Just a Dream,” the album’s crowning achievement, a heartbreaking testament to the past’s vice-grip clutches and the tired euphoria in capitulating at last to hope. The song’s understated acoustic opening gives way to wrist-carving pedal steel passages, then builds steadily to a shivering climax that will put you in need of an emergency throat-lumpectomy.
Lost & Found signals the rise of a promising, noteworthy talent. Let’s just hope that next time around the ampersand finds its way from the album title into the band name.