ALBUM: Horsegirl – ‘Versions Of Modern Performance’

With their debut album, Versions of Modern Performance, Horsegirl have translated the world of underground underage Chicago into 30 minutes of sludgy jubilation. Thudding drums, strangled guitar lines and catchy choruses: it’s a time-honoured formula, executed here with vigour and original flair.

The band produced this record as college freshmen and high school seniors and it is bursting with a fine balance of youthful exuberance and nuance beyond their years. Within a tight instrumental framework, the group explore a range of emphases and styles, from the more straightforward guitar pop of tunes like ‘Anti-Glory’ to textural instrumental interludes and the unusually weighted ‘Fall of Horsegirl’, in which the guitar foregrounds the vocal line.

The integrity of the artistic scene from which Horsegirl have emerged defines the sound, attitude and presentation of this music. The group are keen to champion the work of the network of fellow creatives too young to get into most concerts going on in Chicago and forced to organise shows and create among themselves. Their videos employ the talents of friends and peers who put their directorial and kitchen dancing skills to use in assertively homemade productions (check out the video for ‘Billy’). There is an infectious DIY enthusiasm in everything this band does, and this reverberates through Versions Of Modern Performance.

Undaunted by the transition from high school band to signees with heavyweight indie label Matador, the group have made a deliberate effort to remain faithful to the simple setup that has taken them this far. Describing this self-consciously as “the debut bare-bones album”, they bring the sound of their various basement rehearsal rooms to the studio. The choice of John Agnello as producer suits this aim to be true to the band’s roots, given that his CV, which includes Dinosaur Jr. and The Breeders, reads like a list of the influences you can hear working throughout the record.

Though this record takes many cues from the sound and approach of much of that American brand of alt rock that has been around since the mid-80s, the group make this sound their own. It feels like the natural outcome of three imaginative rock musicians playing in someone’s basement; an honest, instinctive debut free from contrived affectations.

Listen to Versions Of Modern Performance on bandcamp or Spotify

Follow Horsegirl on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook

Photo Credit: Cheryl Dunn

Lloyd Bolton
@franklloydwleft
@lloyd_bolton

ALBUM: Cate Le Bon – ‘Pompeii’

You awake, eyes wild, dreams of Pompeii still flashing through your mind. It’s dark outside, what time is it? A rhythm shuffles over the horizon, an unidentified pulse of percussion and a shambling couple of wind instruments. Pompeii, Cate Le Bon’s sixth album, has begun, with ‘Dirt on the Bed’.

Yet again, she has created a remarkable, singular work. Pompeii is continuously rewarding, an album to return to again and again until it swallows you into its world. Like its artwork, a version of the Tim Presley painting that served as the central inspiration for the entire project, it possesses an aged, grainy feel in spite of its fresh originality. The sound is science fiction. As if from a parallel 80s, it is drenched in synths while evading the worn conventions of synth pop, instead assimilating those sounds into the Cate Le Bon style.

The brilliant ‘French Boys’ is punctuated by a beautiful steel pan hook that is mechanical and melancholy, creaking with the sad nostalgia of an abandoned oil rig in some post-apocalyptic landscape. Later tunes like the momentous ‘Cry Me Old Trouble’ develop walls of synths that provide epic and strange backdrops to the lyrics, complementing their tone perfectly.

Le Bon’s writing builds on the vocabulary of the ancient and the spiritual which she introduced to her work on her previous album, Reward. It constitutes perhaps the best example to date of her ability to create affecting lyrics out of abstract emotive language. Lines like “cry me old trouble”, “my heart broke a century”, “raise a glass in a season of ash and pour it over me”, they have that Symbolist combination of familiarity and mystery. Like a dream, her writing makes some unconscious sense even when individual elements evade comprehension.

Recent Cate Le Bon albums have felt terrestrial in their experimentation, each album conveying a kind of landscape. Crab Day was shingly, coastal, Reward was mountainous and sublime. By comparison, this album feels like it takes place on a swampy exoplanet, with thicker air and a slightly stronger gravitational force. In other words, Cate Le Bon has broken loose from Earth and is operating from a world of her own, free from any obvious external reference point and working according only to her original logic.

The closer, ‘Wheel’, provides a cyclical end to the album, an approximate reprise of ‘Dirt on the Bed’ with a palette expanded on the basis of all that we’ve gained through the 9-song track list. Only Le Bon can bound this sound-world, can make sense of it and condense it into an ordered and beautiful album. She is yet to make a bad record, and this might well be her finest work yet.

Order your copy of Cate Le Bon’s new album Pompeii here (released 4th February)

Follow Cate Le Bon on bandcamp, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook

Photo Credit: Cate Le Bon

Lloyd Bolton
@franklloydwleft
@lloyd_bolton

ALBUM: Los Bitchos – ‘Let the Festivities Begin!’

The first week of February. The deepest depths of winter. The coldest time of the year. A couple of weeks on from ‘Blue Monday,’ supposedly the most depressing day of the year. What better time to release an album full of summer party bangers? Enter Los Bitchos, wielding their debut record Let the Festivities Begin!, a bumper pack of the pan-continental band’s signature swashbuckling, psych-swirling instrumentals – the sound of the festival you are already impatiently looking forward to.

This is an album dedicated to joy. It is full of irresistible grooves and winding guitar lines and occasionally punctuated by yells of triumph overheard at the end of takes. The guitar line on ‘Pista (Great Start)’ is almost physically tangible, reaching out of the speaker to tickle your spine. Other tunes, particularly ‘Tropico’, move with the synth pulse and go-ahead danceability of a Tom Tom Club record. Half the song names sound like the captions of polaroids from a summer holiday – especially ‘Lindsay Goes to Mykonos’ and ‘Try the Circle!’ – a feeling heightened by the sunny flange guitars that lead most tunes. The group seem to stand for escape to faraway climes, from their pseudo-Spanish name through to the evident inspiration they’ve drawn from the music of warmer countries, from Turkish and Australian psych to Argentinian cumbia.

With Let the Festivities Begin!, Los Bitchos herald the arrival of summer with an album to thaw your soul. It’s playful and modestly epic, encapsulating the infectious spirit that has led the group to be one of the best loved acts on the scene.

Los Bitchos’ new album Let The Festivities Begin! will be released on 4th February.

Follow Los Bitchos on bandcampSpotifyTwitterInstagram Facebook

Photo Credit: Tom Mitchell

Lloyd Bolton
@lloyd_bolton

ALBUM: Boy Harsher – ‘The Runner’

On their new album The Runner, Boy Harsher expand the remit of their work, situating their signature dark electro-pop amid a set of alternative avenues implied, but unexplored in their earlier offerings. It comes in part as a response to the domestic setting imposed over the Covid years, which took away the natural context for the creation of what they refer to as “club music”. The process going into the project also served as a form of catharsis for the duo in the face of their own personal struggles, with Jae Matthews’ MS diagnosis in particular being cited by the group in discussing the release.

The 28-minute album is framed as a soundtrack to an accompanying short film created by the band. Under the proudly displayed banner of an Official Soundtrack, the duo lean into the sense of drama and shadow created by their music. Opener ‘Tower’ sets out the stall, with ribbons of synth pulse, heartbreakingly unravelling around the mantra ‘you don’t want to know me,’ before eventually exploding into an epic, howling climax. Other tracks like the closing pair ‘Untitled’ and ‘I Understand’ offer time for the listener to breathe and create a sense of narrative within the music, even in isolation from its intended visual accompaniment.

The form also provides a context for excursions into a range of genres, which gives the album the pace of jukebox soundtracks like Morvern Callar and Jubilee (the latter evidently a key influence on the film itself, as the recently released ‘Machina’ section shows.) This effect is heightened by the inclusion of other voices to Matthews on the album, which furthers its dynamic range. Alongside alternately danceable and ambient tracks credited solely to Boy Harsher are features from Mariana Saldaña on ‘Machina’, a robot rock floor-filler, and Cooper B. Handy (aka Lucy) on the antiheroic anthem ‘Autonomy’, a great would-be retro-futuristic pop tune made unique by their distinctive voice and its spartan production treatment.

The unusual conceptual approach to this album makes for a compelling and refreshingly various collection of songs. In spite of its brevity, we find ourselves on a genuinely cinematic journey across these 8 tracks. Perhaps what is most impressive is its assimilation of this new range of sounds and the voices of other artists into something that still feels distinctively like a Boy Harsher release, an impressive feat given the difference in approach and context for its creation. In creating The Runner universe, complete with the motion picture, the duo have managed to craft a world for their music to inhabit in the absence of its natural real-life context.

Boy Harsher’s new album The Runner is released on 21st Jan via Nude Club/City Slang

Follow Boy Harsher on bandcamp, Spotify, Instagram, Twitter & Facebook

Photo Credit: Jordan Hemmingway

Lloyd Bolton

@franklloydwleft
@lloyd_bolton