Though it was nearly two and a half years ago that I first heard Hembree on one of my Spotify playlists, it wasn’t until a year after that that I really started following them. Since then my anticipation for House On Fire has been steadily building, an anticipation that culminated when I finally gave the album its initial listen-through this time last month.
That culmination or climax is something that immediately hit me as my ears were struck with those first notes of the chilling opener “I Don’t Know Why.” How do Isaac Flynn and company make something sound so visceral and yet simultaneously so ethereal? I wish I knew; regardless, it introduces a nasty groove that reappears on many of the album’s other highlights, from the pulsing, grooving lead single “Culture,” to the upbeat standout “Almost,” to even the dancier, penultimate cut “Symmetry Lines.”
On House On Fire these recurring grooves are met with melodies galore, making for a sensible sound just accessible enough to catch the ears of pop fans everywhere. And although it’s an indie rock record through and through, there is a wide enough array of different styles across the ten tracks to keep anyone intrigued; that is, at least long enough to last the LP’s half-hour runtime. The fact that the tracks are as brief as they are (the only one that eclipses four minutes is the driving rocker “Right Time”) help contributes to this, although there is more than one occasion on the record where I feel like I’m just getting into a song when, just like that, it’s over.
I can see where this brevity might deceive listeners into believing that Flynn and company could have done more with each track, and perhaps on certain ones they could have. That said, sometimes less is more, like with “Heart” and the title track. “Almost” is the prime example of this: the frantic rocker roars ahead with the brute force of a freight train, easily making it the most intense track from the entire record. No other cut from House On Fire quite tops, or is nearly as vicious as, “Almost.” That one alone makes the whole album worth a listen.
Though I was not completely blown away, as I had hoped, the debut proper from the Kansas City five-piece is quite the starting point. On many tracks, Flynn’s brutal honesty in his lyricism runs in tandem with the band’s instrumentation, and it’s a consistent theme throughout the album, not just on the highlights. House On Fire is a record well worth spinning all the way through at least once, but something tells me there will be a few tunes on here that I keep coming back to even as the year continues to pass us by.