ShoutHouse play a lavishly orchestrated, absolutely unique blend of postrock, art-rock and indie classical pageantry. The obvious point of comparison is Sara McDonald’s similarly majestic NYChillharmonic. Both bands are (typically) fronted by women; the big differences are that ShoutHouse relies on strings instead of traditional jazz instrumentation, and they have a hip-hop edge. The group’s debut album, Cityscapes – streaming at Bandcamp – is a song cycle tracing the history of New York, from the days before the European invaders arrived, to a possible future. Bandleader/pianist Will Healy wrote most of the material.
The first track, Mannahatta has a bubbly, spacious, optimism reinforced by rapper Nuri Hazzard, David Valbuena’s clarinet and Connell Thompson’s sax adding verdant textures. George Meyer’s violin spirals and dips above Healy’s steady minimalism as Hudson Drones rises toward a lush peak, verses by Akinyemi and and Maassai reflecting how 19th century struggles here mirror those of today. Akinyemi spells it out at the end:
The morning of peace, took a trip around the hill
The same dividend impacted me, subtracted thrill
Add in all the negative: the subway stops, delays in the mix
As I’m released from these trapped doors
I’m faced with the fate of these past laws
My passion would probably pull me in a positive direction
I stop at the river entrance
Enthralled by the possibility but worrisome
Of the penalties that change by the minute…
Singer Majel Connery delivers a setting of a Billy Collins poem with brassy passion over a relentless drive and increasingly nebulous bustle in Grand Central. Drummer Aaron Ewing’s rhythmically tricky For Those Who Look Up shifts on a dime from minimialist mathrock to a summery trip-hop groove.
Percussionist Jesse Greenberg opens his contribution to the album, Ancient Tools, with tinkling bells over hazy atmospherics. Hannah Zazzaro’s pensive vocals over a catchy, syncopated sway evoke the Chillharmonic in a sparse, dancing moment; Akinyemi returns to end it with a long, rapidfire lyric.
Over a driving, emphatic sway, MCs Bush Tea and Nuri Hazzard put a wary, urban 21st century update on the old ant-and-grasshopper fable in the next-to-last track, Ants. The ensemble close the album with Rebuild, its tricky metrics anchored by Healy’s Radiohead chords, MC Spiritchild contemplating a rather grim cycle of death and renewal over an increasingly epic sweep. An ambitious achievement from a group who also include violists Leah Asher, Sofia Basile, Linda Numagami, Lauren Siess and Drew Forde; violinists Megan Atchley and Allison Mase; cellists Maria Hadge, Olivia Harris, Philip Sheegog, Mosa Tsay and Daniel Hass; bassists Luiz Bacchi, John McGuire and Andrew Sommer; flutists Kelley Barnett, Izzy Gleicher and Fanny Wyrick-Flax; clarinetist David Valbuena; guitarist Jack Gulielmetti; drummer Cameron MacIntosh and rapper Adè Ra.