Van Houten – Van Houten

The debut LP from the Leeds four-piece is an episodic look at depression and the destructiveness of poor mental health, weakening relationships, self-motivation and creativity all seemingly at the same time.

Released September 13th, 2019, Clue Records.

“Van Houten” doesn’t mark a triumphant victory over the internalised monster that is depression, the Leeds psych-rockers catalogue how its destructive nature can affect every aspect of your daily life. Masquerading these lows as delightfully dreary dreampop, “Van Houten” is filled with eight tracks that trudge through depression like the deep, trench-like mud it is, arriving home to the comfort of fresh bedding and a single tea light providing a warming glow to fall asleep to. It doesn’t clear your depression or make that walk through the mud seem any easier, but, the comfort it provides allows you to forget even just for a moment and that in itself is worth its weight in gold.

Seeking comfort in the misery of Van Houten and this cinematic view of depression may seem strange for some, but this shared understanding of how grey it can be on a daily basis is the most vital part of their debut’s success.

Opener ‘Moon’ catches intense infatuation in its purest form, seeking out affection with bold promises that will never come to fruition, promising “love I’ll give you the moon”, only to be met with, in comparison, a lukewarm response that really is filled with sentiment, but under the heavy eye of a deteriorating mental health, feels cold and forced.

‘Two Halves Don’t Make A Whole’ and ‘Questions I Forgot To Ask” quickly follow, capturing the end of this relationship before it really even began, watching the colour drain and sepia tone quickly take over. Opening up on how lead singer Louis Sadler’s struggles with depression inhibit him from being the partner he wishes to be, ‘Two Halves Don’t Make A Whole’ looks in on his inability to be present and supportive for his partner, draining any support and affection for himself but leaving none for him to reciprocate. Then asking himself why he was so lost in his own thoughts that he couldn’t find time to deliver upon those bold promises he first made on ‘Questions I Forgot To Ask’, Sadler comes to terms with the realisation that his emotional absence was the true downfall of his relationship.

This continues on with ‘Running Scared’, as Sadler’s emotional self-distancing reaches its tipping point, as he dreams of living anyone else’s life, seeing even the most mundane of experiences as being full of meaning and adventure. As his downward-spiralling lyrics ride to the rhythm of sing-along styled guitars and starry-eyed synths, ‘Running Scared’ catches depression at its optimistic peak, when the grey-guise appears to be liftable, even if only for a moment, and normality appears as if it could be just around the corner. ‘An Everchanging Light’ pleads for this comfort and normality, but seeks consistency in love, even when understanding someone who is much more in control of their mental health seems completely unfathomable.

“Van Houten” plays out somewhat similarly to It’s A Wonderful Life. Louis Sadler has to show himself his destructive behaviour, even if this was merely doing nothing in the first place, for him to truly understand how chaotic his mental health had become. It may not have been met with the glorious level of self-appreciation that George Bailey achieves in Frank Capra’s classic, but “Van Houten” signals a turning point for the Leeds group as a whole. Their collective sound of warm, embracing psych-pop, covering the dark and hollow spirit of depression, is a comforting experience that you could get lost in repeatedly. Allowing yourself to be immersed in their grey-tinged psych-pop might not provide the self-realisation that everyone with depression hopes for to beat the beast, but the warming glow of “Van Houten” is more than enough to be content with.

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