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.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Dunn