Review Summary: Malin Pettersen's full-length debut is spellbinding and beautiful; another notch in the win column for 2020's country music scene.
Serene and sublime, Wildhorse
is the sound of traveling across the countryside on a crisp autumn afternoon. There’s a wistful yet liberated aura, as if Pettersen has invited us to travel through a collage of memories with her. Classical pianos sparkle iridescently like church bells brightening an otherwise grayscale industrial town, while the guitars slide with an effortlessly rustic twang that drives us through the adjacent, winding hillsides. Lightly strummed acoustics splash throughout the background like waves crashing into shore on a sunny afternoon – enough to offer up placid scenery without distracting from the even grander landscape. Malin’s voice hovers above it all, smooth and majestic – an eagle circling over the yellow mazes of corn and patchwork green/orange treetops. Wildhorse
is, by Malin’s own estimation, an album about “travel, movement, longing, discovery and wonder” – and it’s a theme that can be immediately felt here.
Stylistically, Malin Pettersen draws from some of the best in modern country. Wildhorse
was recorded with musicians who have played alongside the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Colter Wall, and the uncanny magnetism that those artists regularly exude is on display with Pettersen’s full-length debut. It’s an album whose atmosphere dips into the ethereal while the candid, storytelling lyrics keep its boots dug into the dirt. Those who have followed country/folk/Americana throughout the pandemic might liken it to Jess Williamson’s Sorceress
– a record of similar instrumental variety that washes over you like a daydream.
is at its best when its otherworldly ether flourishes: ‘Particles’ could soundtrack a boat slowly sailing out at sunset with its lazy tropical sway, ‘Holding Lonely’s cascading piano outro sounds like an ascension into the clouds while looking down upon the thousand shimmering diamonds of the ocean’s surface, and ‘Mr. Memory’s transformation from rural country-folk ditty to breathtaking ambience is like leaving the homestead to venture into a mystical forest. Much of Wildhorse
’s aesthetics deal not in black or white but in shades of gray – the area between the Earth and the sky. It’s a beautiful space to occupy, and it lifts country’s often one-dimensional aesthetic to new heights.
Even when Pettersen’s songs are grounded and more traditional, she pulls it all off like a seasoned veteran of the genre. ‘I Don’t Care’s rustic fiddles sound like a sibling to Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Graceland Too’, while ‘Let’s Go Out’ picks up the tempo and enters a more conventional country-rock sound space. Regardless of which direction Malin’s whims carry Wildhorse
though, the execution is always superb thanks to her balance between creative, patient songwriting and downright pristine production. There’s a very level flow here, even as Pettersen blends rootsier country/folk with more ambient, nontraditional influences that sound like they could have descended from Golden Hour
. This doesn’t quite blaze a trail that
brilliant or novel, but Wildhorse
is still very charming and refined – a forced to be reckoned with in a year that has already seen modern country music take a quantum leap forward.