Bonny Light Horseman
Bonny Light Horseman


3.0
good

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
January 26th, 2020 | 20 replies


Release Date: 01/24/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Your standard indie-folk fare from a collective of musical minds that is capable of so much more.

Any time a band is introduced as a so-called “supergroup”, bells and whistles go off in my head. While each instance varies, these bands tend to play it irritatingly safe – and you don’t need to venture far back on the musical timeline to find Boygenius or Better Oblivion Community Center standing front-and-center as prime examples. Enter Bonny Light Horseman, a folk singer-songwriter outfit comprised of Josh Kaufman (The National, Hiss Golden Messenger), Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats), and Anais Mitchell – not to mention a cameo from Justin Vernon. The group resides comfortably in their indie-folk niche, while occasionally leaning into country, but the end result is yet another pleasant, unremarkable outing that reaffirms the notion that indie/folk does not need more supergroups – it needs more innovators.

To be fair though, Bonny Light Horseman plays its shtick particularly well. Mitchell’s voice is ideal for the folksy, rural vibe that this band’s debut aspires to and for the most part reaches. The best moments come when she retains the lead role, such as the emotionally swelling refrain of the title track (which blends historical references in a story about a soldier who will not return home from war) and the sweet, sprightly verses of ‘Jane Jane’. In addition to her strong performance, there is melodic counterbalancing throughout – at its best delivering gems like ‘Deep In Love’ (where Johnson takes the reins vocally and excels) and at its worst recalling the cheesy give-and-take of a more streamlined band such as Of Monsters and Men. Vocals are the chief platform upon which this entire piece operates, so it’s vital for listeners to connect with them. The instrumentation is sparse and minimal, allowing for little more than the persistent drone of acoustic picking and the occasional brass accent. Aesthetically, it sounds very much like a National/Bon Iver offshoot – and since that’s essentially what it is, it should play well to its target fan base while delivering few surprises.

The problem with Bonny Light Horseman, aside from its predictability, is how lifeless the songs feel in general. Granted, if you look at the cast of musicians, no one should be expecting an extremely uptempo affair – but there’s little variation in structure or pace throughout. The songs blend into one another, all floating upon a paper-thin layer of acoustic guitars that rarely delve into anything approaching intricate…let alone complex. Percussion is nearly absent, save for the few flat beats that appear sporadically across the album’s ten songs. It’s a lo-fi affair in terms of production/electronics, which makes sense – but it’s also too polished to qualify for genre-coveted adjectives such as gritty or Earthy. It’s merely a collection of sleek sounding ballads from a crew of indie/folk heroes. They can be gorgeous at times with the plethora of vocal talent on display, but otherwise it’s a wash.

In essence, Bonny Light Horseman delivers what it promises. It’s a highly melodic, well-produced piece of folk music that should resonate well on long drives through the country or nights spent out by the bonfire. It’s vocal-centric, and the vocals are absolutely the strength of the album – so it’s difficult to fault the band too much for honing in on them. In spite of this, Bonny Light Horseman’s debut does little else to attract listeners, which is disappointing when you consider all of the great musical minds at the table. It seems that rather than investing too much interest into crafting engaging atmospheres or experimental song structures, the band opted to pour all of their time into the harmonies, and then into perfecting those harmonies in the studio. It’s not the worst approach they could have taken, but again, there’s nothing super about adhering to the virtues of pop – and in turn, Bonny Light Horseman is a marginally decent record; nothing more.



s
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user ratings (18)
3.3
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
January 26th 2020


33309 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The embedded track is by far the best thing about this, so if you aren't fond of it, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the experience.

It was hard to find much to say about this because there's so little going on. It's pretty and kind of memorable I guess, but I was hoping for something better.

Digging: Tame Impala - The Slow Rush

alamo
January 26th 2020


2438 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

great review as usual



going to check this for the album cover alone, how fucking cute is that cheek

dmathias52
January 26th 2020


1121 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I enjoyed this a lot. But nothing special at all has come out of it. I'm not sure what to think. Like it hit all of the right notes, but that's about it. Not sure what to rate in all honesty



That said, I still adore the sound and especially "Jane Jane"!

Digging: Spanish Love Songs - Brave Faces Everyone

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 26th 2020


33309 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah, 'Jane Jane' rules. That and the title track are easily my favorites.

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
January 26th 2020


11429 Comments


How long til you whip out the decimals again Sowing? Reads like a 3.2 ; ]

Digging: Sutrah (CAN) - Aletheia

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 26th 2020


33309 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ha, funny because I was struggling between a 2.5 and 3. It probably deserves the former but is too agreeable-sounding and enjoyable to warrant a score of 'average'. My plan is to never return to decimals again. I very much prefer the ambiguity that comes with half-stars, it allows me to pool together releases of a similar quality into "tiers", which makes my year-end lists much less predictable and a lot more fun to formulate.

DadKungFu
January 26th 2020


757 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Oh shit it's a Sowing review that isn't totally laudatory. Good read, as always.

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 27th 2020


33309 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Thanks! This is nice but I think AllMusic termed it best when they wrote "Bonny Light Horseman resembles a somewhat above-average indie folk effort, not at all bad but not of lasting impact. Maybe they should have messed with this stuff a bit more."

DadKungFu
January 27th 2020


757 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Yeah, this is a pretty middle of the road release in a genre that's kind of defined by middle-of-the-road-ness. Not a lot of heart, just pretty and forgettable. Good coffee shop music.

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 27th 2020


33309 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Sadly, I pretty much agree with that assessment. I enjoyed it a fair bit more than you, but the main two adjectives that come to mind when I think of this are "pretty" and "safe".

fatneckbeard
January 28th 2020


55 Comments


Bonny LightJack Horseman

Scheumke
January 29th 2020


1515 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

What it tries to do it does so quite well in my opinion. It's just that what it tries to do is pretty unremarkable and devoid of highlights. Perfectly acceptable background music.

Digging: Envy - The Fallen Crimson

DadKungFu
January 29th 2020


757 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I mean you're right but making background music is probably one of the worst things you can do as an artist imo

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 29th 2020


33309 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I wouldn't qualify this as background music first and foremost. I mean, parts of it are, but there are also beautiful and lush moments of country-leaning folk that transcend that description. It's pretty and pleasing, but too safe to impress.

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 29th 2020


12238 Comments


Does the fruit bats guy have any vocals on this? Love that guy

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 29th 2020


33309 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Credits are weirdly difficult to find for this album, but I remember reading somewhere that he at least did them on 'Deep In Love'. You'll have to listen and tell me because I'm not familiar with Fruit Bats.

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 30th 2020


12238 Comments


Gonna check this out anyways, seems enjoyable enough

Scheumke
January 30th 2020


1515 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"I wouldn't qualify this as background music first and foremost." Owh I think I phrased that wrong. What I meant is that its music I would never actively send to someone 'listen to this', but I'd surely put into a playlist with enjoyable music for when I have my parents or specific friends over.

I wouldn't classify it under the 'background music' category 'cus that is indeed one of the worst things you can do as an artist, and it's what lounge music is for right xD.

BigTuna
January 30th 2020


5346 Comments


I think I like this more than you all.

madrigal30
January 31st 2020


529 Comments


inb4 the bojack list boils over



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