Chicago duo Houses have undergone subtle yet significant changes with their second record, A Quiet Darkness. Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina recorded the album at home in LA as well as in a studio, keeping in mind the necessary components needed to integrate a drummer and guitar player for live shows. Consequently, they have come back with a 'bigger' sound - not in terms of brashness, but rather in a fulfilling of confidence and melodic assertion.

Conceptually, it tells the story of a couple separated by a nuclear holocaust who attempt to reunite along California's Highway 10. On one level, this makes a magnificently intriguing impression. On another, it accounts for the estranged, inert ambience that pervades throughout the records synth-pop melodies. This grandiose set of songs is woven together from the wreckage of ominous uncertainty and muted sadness, a melodic ode to the (theoretical) anguish of destruction and longing.

The appropriately titled 'Beginnings' introduces the album with a hauntingly cyclical synth melody while grunting guitar chords and drum kicks breathe newfound life into the song that swells with a sluggish weariness. Muted staccato plucks pulse beneath a sea of undulating synths on 'The Beauty Surrounds', a sparklingly hopeful track that drags itself through waves of artificial, brisk handclaps. 'Big Light' returns to a more mournful sense of loss and frustration - "I'm trying to get blood from a stone, there's nothing to save" - while the persistent kick drum echoes a weak yet determined heartbeat, an insistent life-force that prevails despite the devastating loss.

Equally sombre is 'Peasants' incorporates snare rolls and a glassy guitar with the chattering of a drum machine, whereas 'Carrion' (literally the dead, decaying flesh of an animal or a pun on 'carry on'?) builds upon itself in trembling layers of somnolence. With the help of a harp, 'What We Lost' glimmers with a sublimity that shudders with the interjecting of synths, whereas 'Smoke Signals' tentatively unfurls with an ethereal sense of hollowness and isolation. And following a five minute, purring drone that blossoms with timid hope ('The Bloom'), the title track closes the album with stomps, snaps, and hushed, heaving vocals.

Throughout the record, synths swell and squirm whilst guitars coil and recoil to echoing in unison across the conceptual divide. Tortoriello’s voice is not always as expressive as you might expect - it remains weary but nevertheless emotive, precisely conveying the exasperation and hopelessness that we can only otherwise imagine. The moments of sadness are sombre and muted, and there's a recurring sense of 'almost-but-not-quite' as each melodic crescendo shrinks into a faded echo which can be frustrating. But perhaps, in some ways, it mirrors the perpetual rise-and-fall of a breathing chest, of life and love continuing to exist - somewhat tentatively - following a moment of devastation. For some, however, there may not be enough variety here, and perhaps that’s what makes the concept so important - it acts as a constant reminder of the narrative path that you travel through, and justifies the sobering parallelism, the symmetry that resonates across the void.