The Wisdom of Harry is essentially a pseudonym for Pete Astor (formerly of The Loft and The Weather Prophets) and a few of his friends. House of Binary is the outfit's first record proper (1999's Stars of Super 8 was a collection of earlier recordings). According to their press materials, The Wisdom of Harry's intent is to create music that is "both lyrical and cinematic". Indeed, there is a certain understated cinematic quality to all the songs on House of Binary. Take "Palefinger" for example. It's highly evocative, with shimmering textures of floating electronics and exotic acoustic guitar riffing, markedly subdued by its calculated pace and cautious temperament. It comes across like an exquisitely detailed landscape painted entirely in pastels. Its deft melodicism and emotional intimacy make it highly lyrical.
Not all of the songs on House of Binary are as sober as "Palefinger", but they are equally evocative. The opening 30 seconds of the CD suggest a twisted version Brian Eno. I can hear "Deep Blue Sea" in the background, but what's in front is more "Bride of Chucky Takes a Lesbian Lover"! When "Unit One" begins, it's somewhat sinister as well, with a mechanical voice deadpanning "Unit One" over Psycho-like strings, while disembodied saxophone licks wafting through the air in the distance. But within about 30 seconds or so, it settles nicely into an understated sort of funky-jazzy thing.
Astor sings on some of the tracks (or at least, in the absence of credits in the liner notes, I presume it's Astor). His voice is more a murmur than anything else, like a sort of whispery Lou Reed. The vocals' mellow quality helps to solidify the general coolness and control that pervade this album. "Coney Island of Your Mind" and "I'm Going to Make My Life Right" both really remind me of Lou Reed, and I think it's primarily because of Astor's vocals.
House of Binary shows an artist at the height of his craft. The sheer competence of it is remarkable. Making music this descriptive is hard to do, yet Pete Astor succeeds where others have failed.