Over the years one of the things I have learned is that watching a local band grow and develop of a lengthy period of time can be a great thing. There have been plenty of bands that I have heard and not been terribly impressed with, but as you see them a few more times, on purpose or not, you will discover those bands and musicians that care about their craft and want to get better. It can truly be amazing to have your eyes opened by great performances, great song writing, or even just a little random improvement. That little improvement grows into something bigger down the road and you never know just how far they may be able to go.
What does any of this have to do with HORSE the Band or the album at hand? A lot. You see, this is the third album I have reviewed from this band and each one is better than the last.
I first came into contact with HORSE back in 2007. It was an interesting experience to say the least. I listed to The Mechanical Hand and saw them live in concert all in the same week. I was intrigued by their mix of hardcore, metalcore, and Nintendo. Experimentation is a definite way to stand out from the crowd and get you noticed. I certainly enjoyed these opening experiences, but I would not say I was won over to their cause.
Shortly after this entrance to the world of HORSE, I got my hands on their next album, A Natural Death. This was a decided step up from The Mechanical Hand, the songwriting was better, the performances were better, and it was just a really good album that saw them getting a lot closer to who they want to be.
That brings me to Desperate Living, which may just be their most accomplished work to date. It seems that the metalcore tendencies have been pushed down into the mix in favor of atmospheric ramblings, synth-experimentation, and a general aura of individuality which has furthered their ability to stand out from a crown. Of course, it probably is not that hard to stand out with a name like HORSE the Band, cemented by their synth-core stylings.
Desperate Living finds HORSE a more focused beast, one that, in the years since their last release has honed their skills to a state of precision. The sound still has a loose, open feel to it, but still has the ability to cut like a knife.
The guitars by David Isen are raw, to the point and run the gamut from wild freak outs to soft melody and everything in between. Joining Isen as the instrumental centerpiece of the band is Erik Engstrom and his keyboards and synth. Much of Engstrom's work is still reminiscent of old school Nintendo (hence their self-descriptor "Nintendo-core"), but there is much more to it this time around. It plays a bigger role in the creation of the music, instead of merely adding flavor, the synth takes on more of an instrumental leadership role equal to the guitar. In short, the guitar and synth work makes these songs.
The drums, from newcomer Daniel Pouliot give a solid beat to follow along with. Perhaps not quite as strong as Christopher Prophet's were on A Natural Death, but still nothing to laugh at. As for the bass, I cannot say I detected much. There is not much bass to be found, but frankly, I cannot say it is missed all that much.
The final piece of the HORSE puzzle is vocalist Nathan Winneke. I always looked at him as the weakest link, despite fitting in well with the rest of the band. This time around he is not quite as front and center as he had been. He still is an important part of the HORSE attack, but it appears that he is a bit more calculated in how he uses his chosen instrument, which works perfectly well for the album as a whole.
Desperate Living sees the band at a creative high point. This is evident upon the first listen and survives multiple runs through the 12-song collection. High points include the aggressive opening in "Cloudwalker," the 80's pop-influenced "Science Police," "Golden Mummy Golden Bird," and "Between the Trees."
Bottomline. Frankly, this is not a band I suspected I would ever love, much less like. It goes to show that you should try to be open to different experiences as you never know what you may find. It has been fascinating seeing this bands development over the past few years. It is also great to hear a band taking chances and experimenting, sure they are not exactly mainstream and that is the way I like it. On a final note, when you listen, do you detect some synth work that sounds right out of an Italian horror film? I did.