Spook Houses. Haunted Houses. Hell Houses. Depressing places. Never quite live up to your expectations do they? I remember being terrified of the man with the Jason mask who chased you through the junkyard with a chainsaw. Then one of my friends told me the chainsaw didn’t really have a chain on it and so it couldn’t hurt you. After that I ran and screamed just to fit in with my friends. Communal terror was never enough. But still…
Spook Houses, the band from Ridgewood, NJ, have just released a six song demo/EP that hasn’t left my headphones for about a week now. Unlike the innocence lost at real spook houses, the totally-unrelated-to-witch-house-in-any-way Spook Houses the band never really disappoint. Spook Houses appropriate the n’er-do-well charm and bash-your-face-in frantic power chord mashing in the moldy basements of the midwest a la lo-fi savant Cloud Nothings with the vocal-rending, country-balladeering of early Built to Spill. “Family Plot” has one of those meandering lead-guitar lines that sounds so melodic I swear it was written for the human voice. This is, of course, on their most Built to Spill-sounding track, so the song eventually bends into a grizzled chorus overloading cheap analog recording equipment and sending every blinking light to a solid red. Gorgeous stuff.
Spook Houses never quite let their influences get ahead of them. Each genre tag consequently gets placed and dropped on every listen. “They are one of those nineties lo-fi nostalgia bands” gives way to, “ah, they are one of those NJ beach-bum slacker pop bands” before “why the hell am I hearing so much country in this album? Is this some sort of War on Drugs type thing?” Maybe they are all of those combined? Spook Houses make failing as a music critic so much fun. The band doesn’t exactly kill their idols, yet, they don’t sound like a group flailing around from one genre to another, never really feeling comfortable in their own skin for more than a song or two. Real Ghosts/Pretend Ghosts is a start, and a quite wonderful start at that. We will be waiting with baited breath for the full-length.