Review Summary: Even better than the real thing
I love it when music ties itself to whatever else is going in my life at that point. A specific song may remind me of that one remarkably insignificant cup of tea at that remarkably insignificant restaurant, solidifying memories of small moments as integral aspects of enjoying the music in the future. Other times, records end up fitting in perfectly with what I’m occupying myself with, often presenting themselves more as complex puzzles than something which inherently coheres. In this specific case, having been stuck knee-deep in attempts of making sense out of certain postmodern theories, Holy Motors’ Horse
, right down to the album cover, seems to fully reflect the concept of hyperreality.
Without going too far into this particular bit of semiotic silliness, it is best explained by means of one of U2’s greatest hits: ‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’. Simply put, Horse
is much greater than the sum of its parts would imply it to be, and ends up crafting its own unique space of existence that stands tall above the expected; the ‘real’ real. Mixing country and dream pop with a flair of gothic in Eliann Tulve’s gorgeous vocals, the music exudes a wistful American feeling that could only be conveyed as such by a band decidedly not from this particular continent. Hailing from Estonia, Holy Motors have compiled a wonderful collection of songs that is as laid-back as it is compelling, gently exploring all facets of their unique sound.
Much like the majority of the record, it is pretty tempting to compare ‘Endless Night’ to the music of Orville Peck, yet, Horse
is infinitely dreamier all throughout. This particular highlight finds Tulve lamenting “What’s another endless night?” over echoing guitar twangs and slow, meandering drums, solidifying the exceptionally contemplative nature of Holy Motors’ music. Similarly, ‘Matador’ expertly constructs a tangibly dense atmosphere by means of its slow pace and eerie, ethereal instrumentation. Its chorus is entirely unique in its inclusion of a heavily distorted guitar solo, buried underneath a pleasant layer of fuzz and the ever-captivating vocalist gloomily repeating the song’s title. Repetition is key to Holy Motors’ formula, and thankfully, it rarely falters through the band’s ability of consistently combining these repetitive elements with odd, unique or soothing details. It’s not quite dream pop, but it’s not exactly playing by the country rulebook either; something which hardly matters due to the sheer charming qualities of the music.
Clocking in at a concise 32 minutes, Horse
builds its world within the first seminal seconds of ‘Country Church’ and allows its music to live comfortably within this framework. From these slow opening notes to the gorgeous duet on ‘Road Stars’, where Tulve’s voice is perfectly complemented by absorbingly deep male vocals, all the way to the fully instrumental closing track, not a single moment is wasted. While Holy Motors could have expanded on certain sections by, for example, allowing more space for the songs to breathe, this minor issue primarily provides opportunities to improve on future works, something already signaled by this bluesy finale here. For now, Horse
exists within its own little bubble that is so much more compelling than one would expect. Like the obviously fake backdrop on the album cover, the album does not chain itself to any illusions of realness, instead achieving authenticity through playing its very own game; existing within a subtly novel space altogether.