Horse Lords’ previous record The Common Task appeared on March 13, 2020. Two days later, the whole world began to close. For many of us, the remorseless repetitions of The Common Task became part of the terrible clockwork of life under lockdown. It was one of the great albums of the early pandemic, anticipating what quickly became the national sense of stasis approaching breakdown. The erstwhile Baltimore quartet (three of the members now live in Germany) returned this month to a world changed, but certainly not changed enough. The radical music on Comradely Objects speaks directly to our historical predicament: Horse Lords erect seemingly stable musical systems which they force to undergo transformation in spite of themselves. The band has spoken often of the problem of being a leftist band without deploying any lyrics with which to express their politics. But the politics are right there in the design: they realize possibilities out of inertia. To my mind, there’s a radical hope in that.
Here’s the thing: Horse Lords make a cerebral music that absolutely rips. One can get drawn in to the mathematical sophistication of their compositions. Or go out chasing down the stray references to art and politics in their song titles. Or get overwhelmed trying to construct improbable genealogies for the music, where you find yourself, like the conspiracy theorist, pegging strings from New York minimalism to the brainy jerk-rock of early Devo to the insect drones of Xenakis to the leftist postpunk of This Heat. Another thread connects to Wagogo music from Tanzania; another winds back to Beefheart. The web expands in every direction. But the erudite music theory, the historical signposts, the tangled chain of influences all bend before the overwhelming fact of the music. Horse Lords make dazzling music—intricate in its conception, thrilling in its execution, immediate in its impact. It is difficult to think of a more viscerally exciting American group working today.
Comradely Objects ranks among their finest work. The opening track, “Zero Degree Machine” (a term borrowed, appropriately enough, from the architect Kazuo Shinohara) is essential Horse Lords. If you can’t find your way into the endlessly phase-shifting figures, muscular riffage, circular saxophone and nimble drumwork, then this band may not be for you. The rave-up “Mess Mend” somehow finds the point of interchange between West African highlife and the avant-garde hillbilly music of Henry Flynt before degenerating into malfunctioning computer music. The anarchic “May Brigade” sounds something like a cover of Faust’s “J’ai Mal aux Dents” executed by Ornette Coleman’s deconstructed funk troop Prime Time. The ten-minute “Law of Movement” marries color-changing gas clouds of spectralist drone to an absolutely relentless krautrock chug. The phasing horns of “Rundling” sound like an amped-up version of the time-lag accumulations from Terry Riley’s phantom band. The album closes with the hypnotic hocketing of “Plaint Hunt on Four,” where little repeated note patterns by each instrument cohere into a haunting melodic line, undulating like a lantern dance dragon at a parade. Here again are those Horse Lords politics: even within the most rigid structures, beautiful and astonishing solidarities emerge.
“Plaint Hunt on Four” ends with a scrap of studio chatter and a count-in on the drumsticks, as if we were back at the beginning of an album. But what follows is silence. And in the silence that follows the genuinely remarkable Comradely Objects, you could find yourself quietly wondering whether Horse Lords might be the only band that matters. | b sirota
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