In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
“Apparently we are emo now,” wrote Christian Holden of The Hotelier in a lengthy blog post announcing his band’s new album, Home, Like Noplace Is There. The new one deals with “some real dark stuff,” he wrote, which simply summarizes some of the gut-punching themes of the album. There is indeed some real dark stuff on Home, Like Noplace Is There, from the apparent suicide that inspired album standout “Your Deep Rest”—which we premiered in early January—to the broken relationships haunting songs like “Dendron,” “Discomfort Revisited,” and especially “Housebroken.”
On its surface, the song is about an abused dog who’s offered a chance to escape, but chooses to stay with what she knows. Maybe it is a song about a dog, or maybe—as Noisey suggested—the dog stands in for a real person, but as the press materials for Home, Like Noplace Is There note, “Some individuals prefer their restraints.”
Holden sings the song—which moves at a loping 3/4 time and recalls Superchunk’s less-intense moments—directly to the animal, opening the song with “We called off your guard as we entered the yard / To convince you to redirect some of that rage / Because who fed you rocks while they ate their Thanksgiving? / And who left you out all alone in their cage?” Kicked, choked, and neglected, the dog learns to live with her tormentor, “the top-dog, pack leader, a true alpha-male” who says “‘We must keep our bitches in line’ / And on his poker nights, he says the same of his wife.”
Toward the middle, with the full band behind him, Holden entreaties the dog to come with him, to take advantage of his “acres with streams,” then everything but his guitar and vocals drops out when she explains why she’s staying. The song slowly builds back up to a cathartic crescendo that doesn’t conclude the story so much as end it on a more empowered note, the perspective shifting to the animal: “Try to take out my claws, expect a visceral reaction / Try to muzzle up, I’ll lash out and bite back.”
It may look a little ridiculous written down and analyzed like that, but “Housebroken” is one of the great songs on Home, Like Noplace Is There, an empathic look at the choices people make even when they’re obviously detrimental.