Kevin House has a very thin little voice that warbles over carefully modulated backing music. Its softness and whispery warmness slowly grows on you throughout this, his second album, even though at the back of your mind you have a sneaking suspicion that he can’t really sing.
It’s hardly low-fi – everything seems carefully calculated, especially the little snatches of solo instruments, to lull the senses while the songs’ dark messages slowly sidle over and cosy up to you. The images evoked by the songs – which are definitely lyric driven, although some of their melodies are very sweet, particularly the opener World of Beauty and the delicate Song of a Cloud – are of a seemingly naive world which only on closer inspection reveals its knowing side.
The material ranges around a little, from Americana like Song of the Cloud and Down River (reminiscent of The Handsome Family meets Silver Jews backed by a palm court orchestra), through to songs that are much closer to the European chanson tradition.
By mixing in mournful pedal steel guitar, courtesy of Paul Rigby, and some simple but effecting trumpet from Mike Derrick, World of Beauty has a miasma of sorrow hanging over it like a murky fog.
Definately an album for bedroom miserablists, often musically interesting, with tracks like Waterfall featuring juddering guitar and stuttering rhythms, matched by equally intriguing lyrics.
House is something of a cult naive painter, his work flirting with many cult subjects such as carnival show banners, old records and boxers, and his songs reflect a similar counter-culture point of view, providing glimpses into a downbeat but proudly mysterious world.
This is most obvious on Carnival Song, which namechecks characters such as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, but makes it clear that the anticipation of the arrival of the carnival in town stands for something far more than ephemeral enjoyment. With its faintly sinister, lilting tune, it’s one of those songs that shyly reveals itself once you move your focus from the bright hurdy-gurdy model of its music.
If you like your music clever, soft and distinctly sinister (albeit in a rather beautiful way) then Kevin House is definitely someone to check out.