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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Belt

ALBUM REVIEW: Van Houten - The Tallest Room

Fine shoegaze debut from Leeds sextet

Shoegaze records either invite you into their mesmerising world or fail to leave a mark. The Tallest Room - the debut album by Leeds sextet, Van Houten - happily falls into the former category.

The accomplishment of the album calls to mind Bedroom - the debut LP from Yorkshire peers, bdrmm. And perhaps the comparison makes even more sense when you consider that it was produced by Alex Greaves, who has worked with bdrmm, as well as Working Men’s Club and Bloc Party.

Sparse, poetic lyrics are muttered in the traditional shoegaze way by vocalist and guitarist, Louis Sadler, who also injects life through impassioned cries on some tracks. Lachlan Banner’s drumming is characterised by thick strokes, Henry Beaumont’s bass is alluring and Jake Wrigglesworth provides some subtle accompaniment on keys. But, as might be expected, this album shines best in its guitar work, spread across the strumming by Sadler, Jake Ribton and Ewan Barr.

Seven years in the making, it’s the absorbing guitar hooks which shine on the eight tracks and make the slow delivery of The Tallest Room worth the wait.

Taking their time: Van Houten

Opener ‘Black and White’ provides two main guitar hooks, creating an emotive soundscape in which Sadler sings ‘I don’t know’ passionately on the chorus. ‘Never Did Come Back’ is melancholic, with lyrics appearing to address loss and the fuzzy guitar being joined by all manner of noises at the song’s end as the band throw everything into its cathartic crescendo.

‘Coming of Age’ provides some of the clearest lyrics in its catchy chorus which is somewhere between Joy Division and Talking Heads. ‘Panoramic View’ is a gentler take on their sound which allows for more reflection and cheerful, forward-gazing lyrics. The best two tracks are ‘I Only Wanna Be With You’ and ‘Head Straight’; the former breaking the mould of the album in being just shy of two minutes and having more in common with the indie scene than the shoegaze genre, with clearly sung straightforward lyrics and even finding room for an enjoyable guitar solo, while the latter speaks to mental health struggles with the guitar mirroring the turmoil expressed in a way not too dissimilar to a Radiohead track in its careful arrangement.

‘Note to Self’ and ‘I Let You’ are also good tracks, but not as absorbing as the other six. ‘I Let You’ ends up becoming a bit too one-dimensional which is not a great thing for an eight-minute track. ‘Note to Self’ is a relaxing number, with lyrics about seizing the day.

At times, the quiet music to allow Sadler’s vocals reach the surface before moving into the guitar hooks can feel quite formulaic but, ultimately, the formula works. Give The Tallest Room time and this debut album will seep enjoyably into your consciousness.

Rating: 8.2/10

The Tallest Room is out on Friday (22 March) via Clue Records / EMI North


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