Horse Lords – ‘Hidden Cities’ LP [NNA Tapes]

Funny how you get attracted to some records by timing, sleeves, labels or whatever reason. I was going through a Dirty Three revival – in particular 1996’s Horse Stories album – when I first flipped through the tracks on the self-titled debut for Horse Lords. Not sure it had anything more than an animal connection initially, but nonetheless I was drawn in to the two recordings that made up the release, recommending it to more than a few friends at the time.

That was two years ago, and with only a couple of self-released cassettes in between we now have the follow-up from the Baltimore quarter, and geez it’s good. The group take their band instrumentation and experimental tendencies to build on where they left off with the debut recordings, violently expanding their live sound and dynamic nature of the group.

The Hidden Cities LP is a perfect example of why we continue searching for new music. Five cuts in total, including two over the ten-minute mark, each track is a totally fresh idea, drawing a distinctive map of it’s own within the overall thirty-five minute picture. On the longer cuts Horse Lords return to their journeying live sound that we loved on the first record, with the dense structure of an instrumental rock band balanced out with an attitude of freedom often captured in improv.

The three remaining tracks are a split affair. ‘Life Without Dead Time’ is a fast-moving beat that wouldn’t sound far off a punk-jazz live session, and in fact fitted in nicely against some Jaco Pastorius on a recent NTS show, and equally could’ve jacked the rhythm section from Miles’ On The Corner. On ‘Tent City’ we’re treated to half a track of ambient field recordings of vast space before quickly descending in to guitar overdrive that Shit & Shine would be proud of.

The real mark of how far this amazing band can push their recorded material comes in ‘All That Is Solid’ – which seems to pack in everything that’s great about the rest of the record in to four minutes. Starting off with noisy electronics and game-synths, it evolves bit by bit in to a thick guitar wall of sound before stripping itself down to sparse samples. Absolutely brilliant.

The LP dropped about a month ago on NNA Tapes, with the below trailer coming out a few months before that again. Check it out for snippets of the record, then underneath that what the label had to say about their release. Pick it up, it’s a plate that keeps giving.

via NNA Tapes
NNA Tapes is pleased to announce “Hidden Cities”, the second LP from Baltimore’s Horse Lords. Over the two years since their critically acclaimed self-titled debut, Horse Lords have become fixtures on the American DIY scene, touring with Matmos, Guerilla Toss, and Guardian Alien, and playing festivals such as Hopscotch, NXNE, and Fields Fest. Recorded and mixed by Chris Freeland (Wye Oak, Lower Dens), on “Hidden Cities” Horse Lords square the circle, making music that is alternately tight and loose, real-time risky and process oriented, reconciling the sweaty force of a killer basement show with the icy precision of conservatory training.

On opening track “Outer East” the band showcases its considerable range and sick chops: over a low-slung motorik groove, Andrew Bernstein spins a smoky web of sax-into-delay that recalls Terry Riley’s “Reed Streams”. The song turns an unexpected corner five minutes in as guitarist Owen Gardner—who has structurally altered his frets into a just intonation tuning system—carves beguiling arabesque figures on top of Max Eilbacher’s insistently funky bass. Sam Haberman then breaks in with a fierce drum solo, from which the whole band erupts into a relentless forward moving ecstatic riff that blurs the difference between prog, no-wave and minimalism. It’s a compressed lesson in the effortless eclecticism and muscular playing that makes this band so mesmerizing live. Following “Outer East” with barely a pause, “Life Without Dead Time” rides a mutating polyrhythmic grid that showcases the synthesizer and signal processing chops of Eilbacher (whose solo LP “Red Anxiety Tracers” came out to critical acclaim on Spectrum Spools last year).

A gradually building ramp built of field recordings, tape manipulation and modular synthesis, “Tent City” introduces the second long-form composition on the album, “Macaw”. A floor burner at their live shows, “Macaw” builds rhythmic tension and release before coalescing into a unison burst of festivity and abandon. Bernstein’s woodblock figure pulls away from Haberman’s steady beat and the resulting groove plays out like a krautrock duel-in-the-sand between two offset patterns competing for dominance in a vivid strobe effect. By the ten-minute mark, Gardner’s guitar hits a Bo-Diddley-meets-Group-Doueh sweet spot and the track lifts off in a final spiral of ensemble unison hammering. A coda for extremist signal processing, “All That Is Solid” manipulates and processes the record’s preceding riffs into liquid pools of unrecognizably alien new forms, setting you down on the other side of “Hidden Cities” at once startled and becalmed. It’s vital, thrilling, and utterly transcends its many influences to arrive at a new place on the map for forward-thinking American rock music.