Album Report: “Home Office 2” by Home&Office

Home&Office completely slipped under my radar. This confusing concept project is the brainchild of Andy Peterson, member of St Louis staple Trauma Harness, and a producer lately responsible for the engineering behind Body Leash’s “Flesh & Trash” and The Funny Section’s “Baby Criminalia”. His work with Home&Office started with the December 2017 release of “Home Office 1”, a tape equal parts nostalgic and forward thinking that poses as an instructional manual for setting up your own office at home. Why? Well, in his words: “the growing demand for responsive sales and marketing means efficiency and portability will be keys to success!”. Like the Bandcamp description the album is paired with, this debut showcases a great deal of idiosyncrasy, and upon being made aware of it I listened to the thing countless times, making sure I was ready for the sequel.

The music of Home&Office is straightforward but rich in detail. Right off the bat it feels straight out of an old sci-fi videogame; words like “leisurewave”, “officewave” and “motivational cyberjazz” pop up when checking the tags on the site and these labels feel perfectly appropriate despite their ridiculous nature. The sequenced compositions rely on simple grooves and chord progressions that pound infectiously while commanding patches bursting with personality deliver detailed melodies that glue it all together. The sounds are completely in the style, helping the texture feel appropriate and consistent. Other tracks rely on chopping and sampling of new age music more akin the vaporwave movement paired with synthetic elements that infuse that Home&Office vibe. The track lists are then bridged together through narrative samples that further the concept to present us with an iron clad aesthetic.

Yes, aesthetic work is key to this project and we can see it right off the bat with the instructional concept of “Home Office 1”. However, its August 2018 followup “Home Office 2” pushes the conceptual envelope further, introducing characters through names and a personal involvement that paired with the sounds on here starts to imply an actual narrative. “Home Office 2” is a self actualization tape created by fictional motivational expert Dillard Maxis, a name presented to us right there in the beautiful artwork for the album along a couple of big promises. Old motivational material is a great source for aesthetic flexing, but the sounds of this album enhanced by the flow between tracks and individually furthered by the slight assumptions one could make based on the transition skits present me with an implied story that is much more dire and eerie.

I definitely feel this story right at the beginning of the album, which opens with a skit that masquerades as the start of the motivational tape only to get interrupted by an off-putting answering machine message from Dillard Maxis himself. Confused we enter the first groove on the release in the stroll through hyperspace that is “Unleash Your Personal Power!”. As an opener its solid: the sobering melody atop silky synth pads proves a perfect start to the journey, helping me digest the concept presentation in its short, relaxed runtime. The palette is otherworldly and serves to transport us out of reality and into the project. A lot of the great moments in this album come from the strength of the emotional setting put forth by the instrumentals– these swings in mood don’t disappoint at all, and have had me deep within my mind constantly trying to figure out what they mean (or at least what they mean to me).

Indeed, tracks such as “Potential Self-Actualizing” stick with me because of the splendid composition, but truly hook me with the implications of narrative surrounding them. This one in particular introduces a new character by the name of Dr. Kenneth Blancher in its beginning skit. When we’re greeted by the doctor himself, the music abruptly cuts into a slick, sci-fi crime groove that is as cool and collected as it is mysterious and urgent. Normally the introduction at the beginning wouldn’t phase me, but multiple listens made me feel something, like I should maybe be scared of Ken and wary of this fictional motivational tape. The bass commands the sense of urgency on this tune, with notes that walk up with gusto, tagging the melody at the end of each line. The melody goes off of the bass into a longer-winded vocal patch for an off-kilter sonic contrast. The halfway point introduces a fantastically dissonant and jagged bell solo that cuts through the mix with surprising confidence, bringing this butter smooth instrumental to exciting new heights. It is one of the compositional peaks of the release, and a perfect showcase of Home&Office’s strengths.

“Home Office 2” is rid with highlights that both push strong musical composition and accurate concept building. The high octane office energy of “Design The Life” throws me into overdrive automatically with its tense, incessant bass line, charming bell pads, and the short lived soli bursts from our familiar vocal synth sound towards the end. Short sample loop pieces like “International Line for Mr. Maxis” and “Chopin Clause” help cleanse the palette between mood changes and propel the narrative forward with textures that are cheesy but charming– perfectly appropriate for the nature of this release. More vaporwave inspired compositions such as “Midnight Strategies” and “Skillset Navigator” keep momentum strong through the signature slowed down vocals and a more ethereal, less punctual intention that contrasts with the immediately direct synthetic compositions. The sonic palette here is wide and varied but iron tight in its conceptual reach, and although I’m partial to the minimal synth instrumental sections, everything comes together well to forge a strong track list.

It is that attention to detail in the list of songs here that makes this release so immediately relatable. The flow through the nine tracks is splendidly put together, with every transition, cut and hiccup feeling meticulously planned and perfectly in place. Wider conceptual ideas also develop throughout the track list, a big one being voicemails and vocal instructions deteriorating more and more as we go deeper and deeper into the runtime. This deterioration in vocal skits, emotional content and motivational instruction could help theorize about the concept when placed alongside the two closing tunes. “The Ballad Of Dillard Maxis”, second to last on the runtime, already holds strong implications in its melancholy title. The composition is gorgeous, with a percussion-less texture brought to life by a melody filled with reflective emotion that is eventually doubled by a higher bell for further dramatic effect. The reflection or pain put forth here perhaps sees Mr. Maxis backed against a wall, terrified of his creation. A final grainy and slowed down answering machine message opens the closer “Vacation Request Form”; there is no answer from Dillard, and the instrumental enters a sort of synthetic paradise that perhaps signifies his escape or victory. I’m not sure if Dillard Maxis is our hero, our villain or both, but it seems like he made it through in the end.

I know I’m reaching with my narrative theories, but that’s what multiple listens of “Home Office 2” has left me with, and to me that is a truly special thing for a mostly instrumental album to do. At first the project got me hooked because of Andy Peterson’s tasteful composition and sampling, as well as his strong intention and attention to detail when assembling the flow and arrangement of both releases. However, the more I listened the more my investment grew and transformed into emotional, far from the initial aesthetic appeal. Hearing the vocal samples, moods and transitions presented to me felt like an array of clues, and even though I couldn’t put my finger on it, I could perceive a narrative arc quietly pulsating underneath that imbued Home&Office with a different sort of strength. Perhaps my speculation is unnecessary, but I find it special because it was involuntary and not many projects out there have me connecting dots and unraveling narratives. In a very short time Home&Office has become one of my favorite St Louis projects, and “Home Office 2” is a peak for Andy Peterson’s work, both compositionally and conceptually. Now all that is left is to wonder whether Dillard Maxis will return.

Listen to “Home Office 2” via Bandcamp down below:

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