One of the more notable trends of the past decade has been the pairing of sensitive indie rock types with laptop composers. Thankfully, its ubiquity has also produced some of the best pop music in the past ten years, from The Notwist’s further excursions into electronic composition, to Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard’s priority mail collaborations, to Röyksopp’s work with Annie, Erlend Øye and Karin Drejer Andersson. Xian Hawkins, better known as Sybarite, runs with a similar idea on This Loves Last Time, the first album by Bell Horses. With guest vocals by singer-songwriters Jenny Owen Youngs and Alexander Ericson, Hawkins swirls up a gorgeous dream world where the electronic and the acoustic converge and blur into one gauzy whole.
This Loves Last Time is at its core a collaboration between Hawkins, Youngs and Ericson, though a variety of other musicians add layers upon layers of glorious ornamentation to each track, including violinist Eve Boltax and Antlers drummer Michael Lerner, whose percussion adds a powerful backing to “Still Life” and “The Comb.” But even at their densest, Bell Horses make an atmospheric, almost weightless style of music, one that will find the listener all too willing to be pulled up into the cosmos with it. “Still Life” bounces and glides along gentle acoustic guitars and sputtering electronic percussion, as Youngs’ voice soars above the blissful backing. “Small Hours” is even softer around the edges, and Ericson’s voice is more restrained and serene than Youngs’, which creates a strong juxtaposition between the two singers’ styles. That they trade off just about every other song keeps the album well balanced, which is well evident in the elaborately arranged and just plain gorgeous “Headmess,” a track built around jazzy piano melodies and a breezy rhythm. Yet “Billowing” proves to be one of the most exciting tracks of all, as Hawkins lays down some high energy IDM beats as the song’s various elements spin and cascade into an irresistible whirlwind.
By and large, This Loves Last Time is a serene and soothing album, an easy record to get lost in or let wash over you. But within each track are numerous sonic delights, little bits and pieces of intricate detail that each contributor adds to make for intriguing repeat listens. Bell Horses may not be a full time gig for each musician involved, but their first effort is beautiful enough to make me hope that this won’t be their last album.
DNTEL – Life Is Full of Possibilities
Sybarite – Nonument
Múm – Finally We Are No One
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.