For a genre that's almost synonymous with fist-pumping good times, a lot of electronic music really finds its strength in wistfulness, doubt and melancholia. Mixed emotions work well to a dance beat; think LCD Soundsystem's "Someone Great," Junior Boys' "So This is Goodbye," Gorillaz' "On Melancholy Hill," Hot Chip's "Boy From School," Cut Copy's "Out There On The Ice..." hell, even Depeche Mode could get a little weepy. Dancefloor bangers have their place, but the tracks that dare venture outside of the relative safety that realm offers have often been more resonating.
So here's Houses, a mysterious Chicago-based group of electro-acoustic auteurs who make a delicate brand of dreamy, organic IDM (Intelligent Dance Music, in case you didn't know, is not only a subgenre but also gets an abbreviation). Their record All Night, appropriately recorded at a time of uprooted love, is one of those few danceable albums you can rightfully describe as tender. It loops like Dntel but it swoons like Mazzy Star, and it makes for a good listen.
The circumstances surrounding All Night's recording are these. A laid-off producer who, in seeking a change, moves with his girlfriend to an incredible though remote part of Hawaii (we're talking 'no running water' remote) learns how to live sustainably — they showered with rain water, gathered solar energy — all the while recording the songs that would eventually become All Night. Naturally, most of the textures on the record reflect that quiet intimacy. It's very subdued, almost hypnagogic in form, the man singing (the group has kept themselves completely anonymous) sounds distant, faded into the music itself. The band creates an aura of time-worn peacefulness, something that probably goes hand in hand with drinking rain water.
All Night is a record that finds beauty in the naturalistic day-to-day life of living off the land, and nothing here sounds even remotely mechanical. The songs sound like they came straight from the ground, born out of nature rather than synthesizers. It's odd for an album whose closest relatives include Boards Of Canada and Aphex Twin to sound so identifiably natural. Houses range from tropical Balearic beats ("Endless Spring") to sleepy multi-tracked ambience ("Medicine") but it all sounds completely in line with the world they try to create.
If All Night has a meaning, it's something to do with the indecipherable and mind-bending truth that the cycles of earth are constantly replenishing, and when left unblemished by human contact, are some of the most gorgeous things you could ever bear witness to. It's a recording of someone paying tribute to the gifting and caring mother nature, which actually makes it rather pagan. He takes man-made machines — synthesizers and drum machines — and returns them to the organic world through the power of his compositions. It's quite a sobering thought. But you don't need that narrative to enjoy All Night; the music stands up for itself anywhere, no matter the level of humanity. And that's a sign of a great record.