Some locals have called Horse Lords a supergroup. Certainly, Andrew Bernstein, Max Eilbacher, Owen Gardner, and Sam Haberman each have a mountain of noise tapes, jammed out LPs, and westside noise shows on their resumes. Still, it does not seem right to think of them as Baltimore’s Traveling Wilburys. They are happy dwellers in the Baltimore music and arts underground who have come together to do something, and that something is Horse Lords. It appears as simple as that.
“Wildcat Strike” is side one.
We begin in fuzzed-out bass strikes before the hypnotic build begins. Repetitive guitar lines shimmer. The bass plugs along while the two drummers get into it, one riding a cowbell like his life depended on it. What seems like a live jam starts to melt and swarm up right before a drum fill brings things to a full boil. There is something so excellent and hypnotic about the general instrument interlock, the way the shifts happen gradually over time, feeling loose and improvised. This allows them to hit the listener harder, shivers running up your spine when the guitar suddenly becomes a thumb piano and a banjo at the same time. Minimalist repetition and open tunings in another group’s hands could be a meandering mess, but the Lords manage to keep it right and tight. The drums start to melt around the ten minute mark and the track warps out before crashing back to earth. And that’s when Bernstein’s reed instrumentation kicks in to take the listener even higher. We end in demolitions and reconstructions of the groove, all haunted echo drum hits and guitar squiggles.
“Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?” is side two.
Some crazy layered and echoed tape work begins the second excursion. The bass soon begins pulsing and the group draws up to cast again to see where things go this time. The drums echo while the music moves forward, different tactics taken. The guitarist plays like he is trying to pick a musical lock, each dive and swoop similar but working a different angle. Things grow louder and more complex. There is a pause around the four minute mark and then Horse Lords begin their run across the territory they explore so well. As the poet once said, “this is the trip, the best part I really like.” But you must take the journey to and from this apex to truly appreciate it. We come down, the bass exploring the nuances of its groove as the guitar continues skittering around it. We cycle back around to the peak of the jam, this time coming on much stronger for the true climax of the journey.
The end of side two is the big come-down, an excursion in muted ambient tones, comparable at times to Jim O’Rourke and his most John Fahey-inspired. Synths drift in for a prolonged zoned out outro. What at first is mellow interaction grows in sharpness as the musical conversation continues. The fact that the group lets this piece dominate a third of the record’s runtime allows another side of the Lords to be showcased. The guitars come slowly clanging back in towards the end of the track for one last orgiastic crescendo.
Horse Lords serve as a welcome addition to the Baltimore music and arts underground. Their bold exploration and demolition of conventional rock forms is liberating and challenging. If this is your cup of tea, imbibe heartily and enjoy the ride.
Horse Lords will play a record release show on Saturday, September 8th at Current Gallery’s Current Space (421 North Howard Street) with White Life, Tween Omens, Duncan Moore (bagpipe), and The Soft Pink Truth in support. Shows at Current begin and end early (8:00 PM- 11:00 PM).