The House At Sea is the sophomore album from Amor de Dias, the collaboration between Alasdair MacLean of The Clientele and Lupe Nunez Fernandez of Pipas. Both indie pop bands, The Clientele and Pipas met on tour and formed Amor de Dias to further express their Spanish influences.
The album feels like the moodier cousin of the duo’s first effort, Street of the Love of Days. Their debut album is grounded in drowsy synth-pop, but The House At Sea is slightly schizophrenic. Composed of a few pop songs and whale-noise tracks, the album is left swimming in a sea of ambient pop-less pop. The songs are too lethargic and quiet to dance to despite their flamenco undertones while slightly too melodic and guitar-heavy to count as typical ambient music. The sleepy melodies float in and out of consciousness like thoughts on a beach. Every sound is precise, but has the feeling of reaching your ears after some delay. The clouded clarity of the vocals lends an ethereal quality to the album, but also reminds you of Atlas Sound in a straightjacket.
The album is chock-full of tunes with slow, introspective vocals and cheerful-sounding flamenco guitar pressing on underneath. “Voice in the Rose” has a beautiful conversation between two guitars, while “The Sunlit Estate” opens with just the sound of whooshing wind, which continues through the song.
Two delicate Spanish-language songs are buried mid-album (“Piedras Rotas” and “Viento del Mar”). The effect of the songs, at least for non-Spanish speakers, is to de-emphasize lyrics and increase awareness of MacLean’s and Fernandez’s silky, whispery vocals. Amor de Dias incorporates an odd mix of instruments, from horns and electric guitar, to what sounds like pan pipes, to ambient synthesized wave noises. The arrangement of instruments is unique in every song, partially as a result of inviting friends to play on the album. “Day” and “Jean’s Waving” are the most pop-y of the bunch. They’re more uptempo and bass-driven beach tunes.
Despite the frequent instrument changes, the songs all sound very similar. Most songs include at least a minute of repeating the same phrase over and over, often the title of the song, and the rhythms are only rarely different. “Maureen” and “The Sunlit Estate” sound different from the rest of the album, but are very similar to each other. They still follow the same repetition-of-lyrics formula, not to mention they’re less enjoyable— “Maureen,” the last song on the album, concludes with a 25-second jack-in-the-box-winding-type melody.
At its best The House At Sea recalls songs like “April Come She Will” and “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel (Amor de Dias’ “Under the Glass” and “The House at Sea,” respectively), and at its worst it sounds like a lot of whispering laid over acoustic guitar. Amor de Dias’ latest album is pleasant, if slightly monotonous. The recycling of songs does invoke the idea of the motion of waves, pushing forward and pulling back, over and over again. While calming, this bunch of similar songs doesn’t excite.