I bloody hated poetry at school. I don’t know what your experience was like, but those seemingly never-ending anthology books full of Seamus Heaney’s outlook on potatoes were a daunting time in English lessons.
Let me explain. A classroom of students, all reading with little-to-no rhythm and even less enthusiasm destroyed what should have been an enlightening, engrossing class, especially for someone who was borderline useless in his academic ventures unless it came to the written word. But somewhere between listens of La Dispute’s latest record I found myself reflecting on my attitude to a linguistic art that I’ve neglected ever since I sat that final A Level, hundreds of drunken nights ago.
Jordan Dreyer is a poet for the punk generation. His skill as a frontman lies not with his vocal chords, but the tapestry of lyrics he weaves, breaking rules yet telling stories as all good poets must. Rooms of the House sees the listener taking Dreyer’s hand as he wanders like a ghost through those titular rooms, observing the mundane and revelatory moments of life that are more challenging to put into words than the average punter would have you think.
There’s something about singers who, for want of a kinder way of putting it, can’t sing in the traditional sense. Sure, you’ve got your Adeles, who can belt out a number in perfect harmony without taking a breath, but where’s the fun in that? To be front-and-centre of a group of musicians with only the pipes that Mother Nature saw fit to throw your way as your musical contribution is to be in a position of vulnerability. The singers that leave a mark on us don’t hit notes like they were as easy to reach as the top of your head; they offer untreated honesty, and a sound that nobody else could replicate.
This is wholly true of Dreyer, whose voice remains the most divisive aspect of La Dispute’s output. His affectations see him not so much singing but imbuing his stories with character and raw emotion. There’s that same breathless, high-pitched ramble that featured on previous releases but alongside it is a determined effort to experiment with tone and volume, making this a topsy-turvy travail through one man’s mental constructs.
This isn’t a perfect record. In fact, this reviewer was left cold at times, sometimes too fatigued after a day stuck in the office to face the trials and tribulations of Dreyer’s roaming narrative. He puts so much into these tales that it honestly takes a lot to be on the receiving end of it. And there’s no denying it: sometimes the mewling of what sounds like a rejected Rugrats character outright demands that you be in the right frame of mind.
La Dispute float on the same choppy seas as the likes of Brand New, trading acoustic convenience for an emotional embalmment. But where the connection with Brand New is a relatable – and often personal – one, Dreyer’s tales can leave the listener cold with few hooks to become truly invested. Without that remarkably adaptable voice, there would be little to recommend La Dispute over thousands of carbon-copy overbearing trendy musicians.
To say La Dispute are pushing any boundaries is laughable, especially when they’ve been mining this seam since forming a decade ago (I’d go so far as to suggest that the band behind Dreyer could be any number of post-hardcore outfits, because it’s his performance that really takes the spotlight here). But that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for it, no time to sit in the gloom and lose yourself to a modern day Roethke weave his literary aspirations over you.
And so I find myself honestly torn with this record. On the one hand I want to praise it to the hilt for being so uncompromising and raw, yet on the other I find myself weary or not in the right place to go through another overblown retelling of tales that I have no ability to connect to. It’s a fascinating object and one that has left me lamenting my younger mind’s reluctance to absorb the myriad of passages that filled every page of those anthologies so that I might have something more apt to compare it to.
Rooms of the House is a concept album for a new age. Its title introduces a location, and Dreyer metamorphoses us into a fly on the wall as we witness these people experience heartbreak and tragedy amongst the mundane procedures of daily life. It’s a unique record, for sure, and one that deserves at least some of your time.