Houses of Heaven
Felte Records

The most striking aspect of California trio Houses of Heaven’s 2020 debut record Silent Places was how deeply it delved into the dubbier, wetter, menacing end of mechanized post-punk, a far cry from the brighter sounds favoured by so many bands swimming in the same waters. Their follow-up Within/Without is different than its predecessor, but no less singular; once again teaming with Inhalt’s Matia Simovich as producer, its a record that finds the band exploring a precise mix of rhythm and melody in their songs, maximizing their impact and delivery.

Which is not to say that the LP is all sturm and drang; Houses of Heaven understand the tension between open and airy space and locked in grooves, and apply it carefully to their songs. The staccato vocals of “Flesh Technique” are played against the warbling, flowing texture of its guitar and its reverb trails, lending the song an elasticity that is belied by its rigid drum programming. Similarly, the electropop arrangement of “Pisces” and the breakbeat laden freakout of closer “Sightline” use ghostly delays and echoes to add body, the former opening up where it needs to, the latter reigned in to prevent its manic energy from causing a derailing.

Even moreso, there’s a sense of how production and programming can be used as a function of songcraft, as integral to each track as its melody or vocals. The title track’s forthright chorus where singer Kevin Tecon rises up from a forest of layered percussion and bass programming works because it builds from the tempo and programming of the verse – when a breakdown does occur on the bridge, it cleverly changes shape to introduce the final chorus without missing a beat. Elsewhere, guest vocalist Douglas McCarthy’s familiar voice is given an edge of weary longing by how minimal and wispy the synths that surround him are, more reflections of his presence than accompaniment. Alternately, when Mariana Saldan​̃​a of Ms. Boan appears on the punchy “Deserve”, the song has her sitting right in the pocket of its twittering synthline and claps, acting as anchor and reinforcement against the waves of sound that flow in and around the mix.

Sophomore albums often suffer from a kind of creative attrition, where potential is eroded by lack of focus and a rush to capitalize on a debut. In the years since their first record Houses of Heaven have clearly been working to not just improve on that record’s shoegazey, industrialized style, but to hone it to its absolute sharpest. The success of Within/Without is found in the intentionality of its design, and the tools both concrete and intangible it uses to construct itself. Recommended.

Buy it.