Growing, budding, blossoming, sprouting and flowering. These words describe the feeling Michigan duo Houseplants, Victoria and Matt—for an added bit of mystery, no last names given—aim to achieve on their self-titled debut EP, out digitally and on cassette. With a mint green cover masking the image of an arboretum and sprawls of reverb and wisps of melody outstretched like vines, the band succeed entirely.
While this writer had never previously considered the connection between botany and dream pop, the pairing does certainly make sense. From Lilys’ 1992 song about black orchids to The Death of Pop’s more recent stunner “Gardens”, there’s always been something mystical and alluring about the endless passage of time that flora can represent in connection to billowing guitar effects atop twisting and contemplative song structures.
The first track, “Bloom in View”, opens with a clean guitar riff that gives way to a cloudy burst of textures and Victoria’s pleading vocals. The taught drumming and steady basslines lend the song a danceable indie pop feeling that cuts through the haze nicely and sets the tone for the EP.
Lead single “Honey Garden” more fully introduces Matt’s singing, which evokes the same yearning and plaintive sensuality as Kip Berman’s best moments. The guitars, at times resembling the synthetic, keyboard-like tones of Russia’s Pinkshinyultrablast, pirouette about the arrangements with a measured pastel grace.
“New Daze” picks up the tempo and also further highlights one one of the choices that makes Houseplants such a special release. A predictable and proven tactic for a duo would be to use a drum machine, which could distract from the soul of the songs. Instead, thankfully, live analog drums bring a refreshing subtlety and technicality to the band that breathes as much depth into the production as any reverb pedal.
“Hikari” employs a more ambient approach to a wandering and enraptured ballad that sets itself apart from the rest of the set, widening the range of the EP as a whole. The feeling of isolation present in the song recalls eighties new wave classics; it’s easy to imagine a bit of the track being plucked by a clever filmmaker for use in an establishing shot.
Closer “Midnight Run” harkens back to the earlier tracks by bringing the set to resolution with the snappy hi-hat and snare work that runs through most of the EP.
Houseplants works as an excellent introduction to the band and establishes the hallmarks of their style and mood with a great set of songs that are awesomely produced. Most importantly, this release manages to nail the truest pleasure of listening to a debut: fans get to sit back and enjoy the real excitement—watching something grow.