Second albums are traditionally difficult to make, but Household didn’t realize quite how true that would ring when it came to making theirs. As it turns out, Everything A River Should Be is a record that redefines who and what – and even why – the Minneapolis trio are. Anybody familiar with the music the band – vocalist and bassist Joshua Gilbert, drummer Matthew Anthony and guitarist Nathanael Olsen – made before will immediately hear the shift in sound of these 11 songs.
While the urgency and sincerity of the raw and visceral post-hardcore they began life making remains, Everything A River Should Be is a collection of dense, dark and brooding songs full of a tense, glowering atmosphere. “This is a pretty defining record for us,” admits Gilbert. “We’ve been a hardcore band for a while and this is our first transition into more of this rock/emo that we’re doing. Writing a record like this felt more true to who I am as an individual but also who our band is.”
Partially, the expanded, expansive sound is a result of the members getting older and their outlook and taste in music changing with age. These songs are slower, more forlorn, more introspective than anything the band has made before and there’s a sense of self-awareness about that as much as there is about these songs. “It feels more like an accurate expression of where our band is at now,” explains Gilbert. “There’s definitely a sadness to giving up some of the youth that we had in our punkier, more charismatic days. We’re definitely growing into a more mature and somber outlook on life in general and the album represents that.”
Lyrically, too, the album – which was recorded over the course of a month by Nate Washburn at Atlanta’s Glow In The Dark studios – marks a change in approach. Not only is this the first time the band have really had any production on a recording, but Gilbert says he has never written from the heart so much or presented so much of himself – and his emotions and fears and insecurities – within his songs. “The songs touch on some close-to-home feelings for me,” he says. “It’s much more of a personal expression of my own emotions – it’s not so much a declarative thing, as some of our music has been in the past. It’s more personal and vulnerable in a lot of ways.”
That much is clear from the moment the gloomy, glowering “Away” kicks off the record. It’s both menacing and contemplative, heavy and ethereal, setting the tone for the rest of the album and the highly emotionally-charged journey it takes you on. Many of the songs here dwell on Gilbert’s personal relationships – whether with past lovers, friends or his siblings – but focus specifically on the space between them, the distance he too often places and the barriers he too often builds between himself and his loved ones.
“That’s the biggest theme in the record,” he admits, “because I overthink these relationships. I let them become convoluted and full of complex feelings, and that that happens in a lot. There are songs about my sister and my friends and past relationships where it just never quite worked right and I’m left with these feelings of, really, guilt and shame and self-blame.”
Beyond that, Everything A River Should Be – a title taken from a line in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which Gilbert was reading during the recording process – also confronts and attempts to reconcile Gilbert’s feelings about his brother, who is now serving in the army. Once again, though, rather than dwell on the situation in its current state, Gilbert is taunted by the way he knows things could have been, if only he’d been able to act accordingly.
“Having grown up with someone for almost 18 years and then seeing him leave for the military, there’s kind of this sadness in that departure,” says Gilbert. “But it’s not even missing him and feeling sad about the displacement. It’s more so about opportunities missed and reflecting on times when the relationship has been hard, and feeling ridden with guilt and shame in some of those moments, wanting and wishing there were ways to reconcile some of those things knowing we’re apart. It’s not as much about him being gone as it is me dealing with my own feelings and longing for things to be different or that I was different in past times.”
Despite the self-doubt, missed opportunities and regret that permeate this album, it’s also very much a product of those very things. Not only would Everything A River Should Be not exist had they not occurred, but it’s a record that actually thrives on the circumstances that inspired it.
“Dark Matter” is a fast-paced surge of jittery nerves about the fears of intimacy, while the doom-laden tones of “Don’t Listen To Me” are a down-tempo trudge through the recesses of a brain stuck in the past. Elsewhere, “Far From Me” ruminates on thoughts of what could have been and “Scared To Be” dwells on the mechanics of a past relationship over delicate guitars and crashing guitars before the slightly sinister closer “Bloom”. The last song written, it’s a brooding, cathartic finale which reflects back on everything that passed before it, as well acknowledging the steps forward, both musically and emotionally, that came as a result.
“There’s definitely been some progress,” says Gilbert, “and it’s cool listening to it now and seeing where I’ve come. The idealistic part of me does wish we didn’t have to go through this, but now looking at what the record has become, I’m pretty happy. This is the first time that I’ve been fully able to articulate some of those feelings and some of those tricky, convoluted relationships. It’s the most true and transparent I’ve been able to be and I’m very proud of that.”