Word of a new release by Baltimore’s Horse Lords is great news. Over a few albums and an ongoing series of more exploratory mixtapes they continually whip up an exhilarating blend of strobing razor-sharp rock and thick drones.
They seem to exist somewhere between a very dry and precise rock music and an unrelenting minimalism perhaps best highlighted in their bristling performance of Julius Eastman’s piece Stay On It from 2017’s Mixtape IV.
But The Common Task immediately feels like the most blistering example of their mad precision over its tight 41 minute lifespan that exists in a self-defined space where the only enemy is silence and inactivity. Imagine music that interlocks like Tetris blocks – forms of specific geometries that create sympathetic voids to, in turn ultimately be filled by other sounds.
This airless form gives the music a huge conceptual space, the music is a joy of its own creation, existing in its own universe. The opener, Fanfare For Effective Freedom weaves North African flavours with rock dynamics, kaleidoscopic minimalism and ultimately, vintage Kraftwerk before they found drum machines. And it heads precisely and gloriously nowhere.
Against Gravity feels like the music trying to turn a corner. For every three steps forward, we then take two back. Time is elastic as the moment splits and continues to rupture new edges like we’ve just sat through 30 seconds of music folded a thousand times to eventually deliver us nearly 8 minutes into the future.
The Radiant City unpicks forward dynamics with pleasing islands of bagpipes and electronics… In fact, on an initial listen, I was walking down the normally bagpipe infested Royal Mile in Edinburgh listening intently, when Horse Lords seemingly teleported into my very location. The next track, Peoples Park is a more laid-back form with smooth see-sawing looping and rhythms.
The remainder of the album is filled with the extended arc of Integral Accident that stretches just short of a full 19 minutes. The slow string drones and lilting voice is as beautiful as it is unexpected. Huge warm smudges of organ dusted in tiny details of electronics eventually give way to a gathering rhythmic guitar and drums. This 8-minute beginning positions the lister in a different place this time in relation to the sound. Unlike the previous tracks, that feel watertight, this time, you’re inside the music. Eventually though, things turn towards that mutant Shepard Tone that everything here, rather than silence, has grown out of.
Without saying a word, The Common Task is a spiky knot of activity and indeed activism. Clearly these chunks of sound all name check radical politics and theories that tie together ideas much like the geometry of the cover. Whilst The Common Task is a hugely cerebral pleasure, laced with references, the biggest success here is that it sounds so bafflingly complex and precise but is so utterly human. A triumph.