Standing in contrast to their 2011 EP, a rather emotively-inclined affair befittingly titled The Years (which seemed like the soundtrack to nostalgic bliss at the time, if ever there could or should be one), The Slideshow Effect, the debut album by Toronto duo Memoryhouse, sounds like an exercise in restraint. In a turn from a borderline shoegaze variation of ambient dream pop to only slightly dream pop-tinged Americana folk pop, principal songwriter Evan Abeele and vocalist Denise Noubion have stripped their compositions of almost any and all electronically-generated ambience, and replaced it with a relatively minimal arrangement wherein Noubion’s vocals are featured prominently, backed by a sharp and cleanly-produced pseudo-folk band sound. “Little Expressionless Animals,” the album’s opener, immediately establishes this shift within the first few seconds; Noubion’s vocals have never been heard so loud and clear, and neither have the violins and light percussion that back her throughout the song.
When that feel is evoked again by the clear, spare, unaltered power-pop guitars and drums on “The Kids Were Wrong,” the following track, any possible remaining expectations for a continuation of the band’s pre-debut sound are put to rest. “Kids” features a decidedly clean production sound, with an uptempo melody reminiscent of the kind of bittersweet pop rock The Cure was putting out circa 1985 (as well as on their 2004 self-titled). But it’s really the album’s fourth track, “Punctum,” that makes more evident the significant stylistic turn in genre that Memoryhouse have undertaken: while touches of folk, indie, pop, and even something resembling country rock are found here and there throughout The Slideshow Effect, the song features an elaborate arrangement of acoustic guitars unmistakably in the vein of country-inspired folk pop, recalling the sound that many past shoegaze and dream pop bands had moved to after having generously undertaken their experimentation with all sorts of effects pedals and distortion and walls of sound that seemed to make them so distinct.
Having disposed of the clutter, so to speak, and embraced a clear folk-band production sound, it would seem Memoryhouse sought for The Slideshow Effect to be a showcase for their abilities and talents in songcraft. But the shift in styles more readily exposes the band’s strengths and weaknesses. On tracks like “All Our Wonder” and “Heirloom,” for example, Abeele and Noubion make a noble effort but ultimately fall short in trying their hand at the kind of sleepy yet seductively captivating dream pop twang that bands like Mazzy Star were releasing. However, towards the latter half of the album, on “Pale Blue” and “Walk With Me,” Memoryhouse are able to match the evocative and emotive power that was so prevalent on their EP but that’s now, for the most part, missed. If anything, “Blue” and “Walk” by their very distinction reveal a certain, perhaps unplaceable, reticence and unassertiveness that holds the other songs back, exposing the band’s struggles in working with a new sound, which ultimately prevents The Slideshow Effect from becoming an indie/dream pop standard as opposed to a nonetheless still quite respectable success.