Scottish electronic duo Dalhous attempt to manipulate our psyches with the quietly ominous first instalment of their Composite Moods Collection.
Given that they entered the collective consciousness with a trilogy of albums based around the work of renowned 'anti-psychiatrist' R.D. Laing, it's not a massive surprise that Dalhous, the renowned 'anti-psychiatric' Scottish electronic duo, have now committed themselves to a new series of LPs that's equally high in concept. Continuing their interest in psychology and extending into the social construction selfhood, their Composite Moods Collection is based around the musical examination of how two cohabiting people influence each other's moods, behavior and identities. Accordingly, it kicks off with the appropriately named Vol. 1, a borderless expansion of merging, ambient surfaces that creepily represent the often-intermingling psyches of two unnamed protagonists who reside in the fictitious yet entirely plausible house at Number 44. Despite this innocuous and nondescript title, its translucent waves and shimmering textures haunt the listener at every turn, polluting his or her former tranquility and ultimately reminding us that we don't have as much control over our own thoughts, feelings and personas as we'd like to think.
Instead, it's Dalhous who wield power over our thoughts and feelings for the duration of House Number 44, acting as our toxic housemates in the figurative aural residence they deviously create around us. In black-wallpaper soundscapes like "Response to Stimuli" and "It Itself, Is Harmless" this residence is yawning and bottomless, a cave of echoing synths, wispy electronics and subliminal bass that insinuates itself into our streams of consciousness, in much the same way that a depressive roomie might rub some of his or her depression off on us. What's remarkable about these filmy reverberations is that the blurriness of their instrumentation is a near-perfect complement for the duo's main theme, which is the blurriness of the self, the fact that our emotions and beliefs don't always (or even mainly) come from within, but from the people and world around us. We hear this most palpably on "Research Network" and "On a Level," where the airy, soft-edged harmonies bleed into each other without border, just as the attitudes and psychological states of two lodgers bleed into each other with a similar lack of border.
So strong is this effect on such immaterial waves as "Mimetic" and "Conscience of Nerves" that it's almost as if you're hearing two people being merged together. Of course, this isn't meant to illustrate anything like a literal fusion of minds or bodies, but rather the imprinting or even traumatizing of one by the other. This is why there's a constant sense of presence throughout House Number 44, a harrowing suspicion that the other person is always with you even when physically absent, as a malingering trace that finds its expression in your fears, insecurities and anxieties. In "Content for Feelings" this suspicion is manifested in the diffuse keys and stalking melody, which in their faintness and hushed malevolence insinuate that the residents of Number 44 have become specters for each other, shadows and spirits that follow each other from room to room, even though they might not always actually be in the house.
It's perhaps this ghostliness that makes the album so disquieting and effective, in that it depicts how the influence of the other is often too subtle, too intangible to ever fully pinpoint and combat. During the ethereal smear of "Results" this influence is conveyed by a gaslighting arpeggio that skulks just below the track's gossamer surface, while in the no-less spectral "Everything They Wanted to Hear" it's exposed in the almost disembodied samples that furtively repeat like some kind of unwanted flashback. In both cases, Dalhous imply that the housemates' effects on each other are just too stealthy and shapeless to ever really be recognized and dealt with conclusively, and it's precisely their stealthiness and shapelessness that lends their musical portrayal such an unsettling and sinister edge.
That said, the uncompromising ominousness of this portrayal can become a little overwhelming and homogenous at times, while the delicacy and suggestiveness of the duo's M.O. may not be direct enough for some tastes. Still, House Number 44 is an incredibly clever and well-executed rendering of the clandestine psychological warfare that can often grip homesteads. Its membranous swarms of ambience and synthesizer are an absorbing encapsulation of how two psyches can distort and disturb each other at a distance, and its disturbingly foggy atmosphere offers an equally disarming image of how this can happen without anyone adequately realizing it. Let's just that hope that, by the time its sequel rolls around, the fertile artistic minds of Alex Ander and Marc Dall won't have been swallowed up by any unfriendly housemates they may have shacked up with in the interval.