Horse Lords – Horse Lords (Expanded)

Label: Ehse Records (original)

Produced by: Dan Frome

There’s much to say or explain about instrumental band Horse Lords’ sound, and much of that requires a world-wide, era-spanning awareness of different musical styles, and a music theorist’s grasp of song construction. More simply, we can call this the mathiest of the math rock – perhaps you can toss in a Cluster Krautrock reference if you want, to explain the group’s penchant for nigh-dancey stretches of repetitive guitar / bass / drum lines – but the real dumdums like me will just day something like: imagine American Don but where the band members are all on the same page.  

That’s way too limiting: Horse Lords are absolutely not Don Cab, and this self-titled debut is not American Don, but the glittery, clean guitar and bass interplay is familiar, and the roving, jazz-flecked drums are Che adjacent; the influence is there, and it’s an easy touchpoint. 

But not only is / are Horse Lords not those things, it’s also not giving enough dues to just qualify this title and call it a day: there’s an organic groove underlying this that definitely vibes more with jazz, but also a willingness to rock the fuck out – see the ending on Wildcat Strike – that’s almost hardcore in its intensity, or at least takes notes from some class of post-rock acts via a celebratory build and release structure. 

Prior to this, I’d even say that Who Taught You To Hate Yourself plays with drone, working its slowly evolving cycle of instrumentation with that base kraut beat, but with a generally more patient, immersive, and encompassing approach. 

Later HL would sharpen the edges of this; the self-titled version of the group is worth revisiting because of their comparative looseness, which makes these 15+ minute tracks fly by, so mystified are your ears by the perfect grips of when to shift the sound or pace just so; when to release the intensity; when to wind down. 

The reissue, in digital, features live cuts of the same tracks, and they’re album accurate. I suppose that could be a criticism – you’re not getting new material – but the just-under-the-surface jangle of the guitar playing, and the group’s camaraderie, surfaces more / are more apparent on these cuts, and it’s just kind of magic being able to “see” this stuff performed without any studio assists. That is: the tracks are surely worth listening to, just as this album is still very worth it, even in the rearview of the band’s continual growth.