It sounds like guitarists Omar Afzaal and Bob Haddad, known mostly for their work in All Nite Skate and Castles, are having more fun together – and working harder – than ever before, this time under the moniker House of Bread. If the songs on HofB’s third release, Superhuman Tomb, weren’t so sneakily complex you’d almost think they were just messing around, almost jokingly attempting to create a shoegaze/indie pop hybrid and playing around with their instrument collections at 3 a.m., maybe after a dozen or so beers. But this is the real stuff. It’s too labored over not to be.
At first House of Bread was a solo outlet for Afzaal, who did use the project as a way to kick back and not take his music so seriously. Two albums later, Haddad, Afzaal’s longtime collaborator, asked to join the band. Apparently Afzaal at first declined, knowing that he was already hard at work on Tomb. Eventually Haddad joined, and now, something like three years (or maybe even more) after the home recording sessions began, we have the Bread’s first fully realized work.
Eleven tracks strong and housed in one of the coolest record covers I’ve seen – local or otherwise – in a very long time, Superhuman Tomb opens with a mood-setting instrumental track titled “Nebula M43” and featuring Afzaal and Haddad’s trademark epic guitar playing (think Explosions in the Sky). But that’s not all. There’s much more going on here, including plenty of keyboards, blips and what appears to be a backwards guitar. It’s a big-sounding palate cleanser that proves to be quite telling of the things to come, even though a single word isn’t sung.
From the jump we’re made aware of the growth House of Bread has seen since House That Bread Built, an album with the same anything-goes, lo-fi format of early Sebadoh records. For starters, Tomb is more concise and far more song-oriented, a true indie kid’s pop record. Built, surely a fun little record that far too few people have heard, instantly made me think of early records from Beat Happening, Silver Jews, Daniel Johnston and the like in that it featured vocals that just flat out don’t work for most listeners. And while the vocals on Tomb are also an acquired taste, they come off here as much more developed and melodic and far less experimental. There’s a cartoon-y shoegaze vibe going on, but for the outsider artist type. The way HoB treat vocals – especially Afzaal – is different than anyone else and Tomb is all the better for it.
The guitars and arrangements here, as expected, are spot on. I’d even go as far as to say that the music on Tomb is the best I’ve yet heard from Afzaal and Haddad, which is quite the compliment if you’re familiar with their impressive All Nite Skate and Castles output. The songs may seem simple at first blush due to their pop-damaged appeal, but none of them are. Every time I listen to “Flying Nomads,” for example, I feel like I pick up on a new layer, a new subtle direction I didn’t hear on my first 16 spins.
The first time I heard “Artificial Man” I let out a small hoot. The strange glee Haddad exudes over the very Kraftwerk-friendly music feels surprisingly dreamlike and then suddenly takes a left hand turn while he sings “I was built to last” over a series of “ooh, ooh, ooh” vocals. Sounds weird, right? It is. Is it funny? I don’t know. Not really. It’s light, I suppose, and when you consider the complexity of the arrangements (especially the lengthy closer, “Blood Scouts”), the light approach to vocals works in an interesting, effective way.
The recording and production is all-out post-big-studio DIY bliss. I find nothing wrong here to speak of. Sure, it could drip out of my big vintage Cerwin-Vega speakers a little thicker, but so could most of my favorite records. Mostly it’s just exciting to see these guy growing and doing new things and doing them so well. If Fort Wayne has ever produced a Pitchfork-ready (i.e. uber-creative) sort of record, Tomb is it. This is the album you play for your pretentious friend in Canada who thinks he/she knows everything because he/she reads all the right blogs.
All the bedroom recording glory of Xiu Xiu and The Unicorns is here, vibrant, goofy and intricate – dreamlike pop music for indie punks with young, knotty hearts. By the time track nine, “Don’t Be Shy“ kicks in, I realize that Superhuman Tomb is a very sweet-sounding record – yet another reason to love it dearly.
Head over to the Dash-In on Saturday, June 5 and be the first to pick up a copy of the best art-pop album a Fort Wayne artist has ever produced. Hear what three years of hard work sounds like with every ticking second of Tomb. The show starts at 9 p.m. and also features performances from Bookhaus Boys and Lord of the Yum-Yum.. (Greg Locke)
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