Review Summary: Not awake, not asleep / Not up, not down...
Quite appropriately for a slowcore trio whose album art smacks of apathetic doodling and whose lyrics read as vague, disconnected musings, Horse Jumper of Love give off a strong feeling of lethargy. This might seem self-explanatory, all things considered, but what is notable about their
lethargy is the way it evokes listless depression far less than it does the ebb and flow of a daydream. More precisely, this group’s music does a remarkable job of providing a multi-faceted albeit depressed representation of the hazy, liminal space between sleep and wakefulness. For a sound that is ostensibly the product of a small number of people playing a simple range of instruments, Horse Jumper of Love draw on a robust musical vocabulary in their exorcism of nuanced moods through simple songwriting: at points they are upbeat and climactic, building abruptly to dizzying bursts of distortion with the same sense of euphoric burnout as an sudden endorphin rush, but these moments are complemented with a swathe of nauseous lows and uneasy confusion packaged in reverb, discordantly modulated chords and sluggish tempos. The opening trio exemplifies both these qualities at their extremes, with Ugly Brunette
reaching for an almost uplifting melodic hook of fuzz and overdrive only to sink into the murky interlude July 5th
and the outright ugly trudge of Bagel Breath
, which true to its title does a stellar job of capturing an all too familiar feeling of early morning pissiness and baseless frustration.
It’s around this point in the album that the real strength of Horse Jumper of Love’s craft becomes apparent. Trading off two dynamics as clear-cut as those in question is hardly groundbreaking or particularly distinctive, but the trio has a knack for treating their highs and lows as two unpolarised ends of the same spectrum; the album represents one continuous mood and any juxtaposed elements are two sides of the same self-explanatory coin. Moreover, many of the album’s best moments are delicately balanced between its two extremes, benefitting from a sense of uncertainty and fragility as they sit in the resonance of those extremes’ dynamic brashness.
The best example of this is Spaceman
, a compelling weave of arpeggios and beautifully drawled vocals that occupies the same dynamic space from start to finish and is carried by a carefully crafted melodic progression. The track is rich with a dual feeling of confusion and contentment, bringing that impression of half-wakefulness to its warmest, most dreamy zone of comfort. The lyrics, which are generally well-matched to the album’s mood - are particularly striking here, capturing the song’s sense of blurred lines and wishful thinking succinctly and memorably (“I talk with your teeth / Kiss you through my shirt”). This impression of dreaminess is not always so comforting; while DIRT
starts off in a similar vein to Spaceman
, it circles laboriously around a sparse loop that sounds emptier with every repetition. Rather than lulling itself into its own ambience, the more it explores its mood the less comfortable it sounds with it, until it no longer seems able to face up to its own void and fills the space with noise and distortion. These two songs do an excellent job in defining the album’s central section and stand as a high water mark of sorts.
On the other hand, the album’s closing section plays out more as an unraveling of the ideas hitherto explored. Sun Poisoning
sounds like a Built to Spill track taken beyond that band’s realm of the nostalgia into outright maudlin territory. It does a reasonable job as such but loses much this album’s subtlety and ambiguity in the process. It’s rare for me to criticise a song as dynamically strident as this for taking things too far, but it comes across like a pronounced headache on an album more akin to the on-and-off throbbing of a hangover. This may be conceptually sound in a way, but it makes the song’s lurching from peak to peak seem disruptively clumsy and somewhat spoils the album’s final section. Following on and closing the album, i love you very much forever
certainly feels like a suitable comedown but is so subdued that it feels like a footnote determined to avoid a dramatic finale after Sun Poisoning
’s clamour. This is a wise move, since while the song itself is somewhat unremarkable, it feels entirely appropriate for the album to trail off into the same gloom it emerged from.
Horse Jumper of Love
is a succinct and deceptively unindulguent album from start to finish; while it gives a strong impression of languishing in the waxing and waning of semi-conscious depression, the band’s songwriting is quite concise and prevents their pervasive sense of mood from overplaying itself. As a result it has good potential to appeal to an audience beyond slowcore/emo regulars, whilst also fleshing out the various tropes of its style in a fairly distinct manner. The album’s short runtime feels apt for what is essentially a muggy daydream simulation and it makes for a satisfyingly digestible listen as a result. With a follow-up due out in June, all that remains is to see whether the band can refine their balance further and take their brand of lethargy to even more engrossing territory…