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Horse Lords: Hidden Cities

Scanning the component list for the music of Baltimore’s Horse Lords might leave the average rock & roll-loving Joe feeling slightly apprehensive: talk of just intonation tunings, signal processing and modular synthesis could fool people into thinking that their second album Hidden Cities is some kind of highbrow compositional piece, but in actual fact the group make something pretty complicated sound very simple indeed. Andrew Bernstein, Max Eilbacher, Owen Gardner and Sam Haberman clearly subscribe to some of the same theories as avant-garde OGs like Reich, Glass and Young – particularly the old “repetition, repetition, repetition” mantra – but whilst their new record begins with almost a minute of near-silence that may or may not be a sly Cage reference, the music that follows is tethered firmly to the sticky floors of the underground clubs and loft spaces the group have found themselves playing these last few years. Epic opener “Outer East” features more moving parts working together than your average internal combustion engine – wiry guitar, bass, drums, various percussive instruments, phased woodwinds – but the quartet negotiate the twists and on-a-dime turns with the studied nonchalance of a party-punk jam band, giving the impression of, say, Endless Boogie tripping through a reading of Terry Riley’s In C, breaking for a spot of ragged West African desert blues, then finishing with a groovy sax-honking psych-rock freakout. Mere moments later they’re picking up cowbells and shakers and throwing themselves into a brief, frantic Stereolab-goes-to-Rio rhythmic fit (“Life Without Dead Time”); after that there’s two minutes of clanking, droning concrete noise before they’re back into it, guitar and percolating polyrhythms circling each other until they’re wound tighter than a watch-spring, the central riff of the ten-minute “Macaw” ringing like something from the latest Swans album, a jackhammer-powered needle to the frontal lobe until the tension becomes too much and the pieces burst apart. It’s heady stuff, and heavy too, but the kind of heavy that leaves you feeling light-headed; maxed-out minimalist time-warping trance-rock as cacophonous as a Branca symphony and as precisely drilled as a Shellac song. There’s no shortage of artists using avant-garde tricks and techniques to challenge new audiences – Baltimore alone is home to Matmos, Dan Deacon, Dustin Wong and countless others – but even amongst such a crowded field, Hidden Cities‘ gut-punch impact and multi-layered resonance marks Horse Lords out as clear front-runners.
Hidden Cities is out now on Ehse Records/ NNA Tapes; listen to “Outer East” below.


About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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