The throughline of elements of Horse Lords releases remains static: gamelan, East and West African music (especially guitar-oriented genres), minimalism, phasing, math rock, and a heady dose of progressive music. This being their fifth album (or ninth, depending on how you count their Mixtape series of studio compositions and arrangements of material from other composers), it would make little sense for them to change, given the general erudition and acclaim each of these releases receives. These are good kids who know not to fix what isn’t broken. Well, at least in some ways.
Because the thing about Comradely Objects is our favorite post-’80s King Crimson acolytes have learned how to dance and, well, groove. There are passages here that extend the mathematical precision of their previous works into something more closely approximating Afrobeat with a healthy dose of Fripp’s metallic guitar layered over top. Groove has never been precisely lacking from this quartet, who certainly knew how to develop into a thick lather when they so chose, but Comradely Objects seems to be a nod even in its title of a kind of returning to earth, making what on even as recently as their last record were sometimes deeply abstract sonic structures into ones you can very nearly shake your ass to.
Of course, we still have dancing saxophones a la Battle Trance (who also put out a remarkable record this year for further contemporary classical/avant-chamber music needs) and microtonal playing that would make King Gizzard proud. It is in fact that latter group that seems perhaps the most psychically present on this record as the pivot from their previous far more mathematically precise The Common Task, drawing from the loose limbs and sense of, well, rock of that group to spice up these pieces. We do get less in the way of lengthy workouts (the longest track here just barely scrapes over the 10 minute mark) but, if we’re honest, Horse Lords have more than proven themselves in the extended composition category what with their debut record and each of the four Mixtapes being side-long compositions. There are even electronic freakouts on here that sometimes feel more Animal Collective than the abstract esoteric and academic wing of experimental electronica. “May Brigade,” the record’s third track, brings major Lounge Lizards vibes; given the background and previous material of this troupe, I’d be shocked if they weren’t familiar with the no wave jazz/fusion group’s music, even if this isn’t directly a riff on “Do The Wrong Thing.”
What this amounts to is a shocking sense of humor and playfulness for a group that, by cover design and stark Marxist language surrounding them, might appear to be cold and ruthless. Their design ethos certainly still skews heavily toward the Frankfurt school, feeling like sharp-dressed modern editions of Marcuse and Adorno, but their sonics here show an embracing of their inner Deleuze. Granted math rock of their type has always been dialectic in its method, a clave juxtaposed and complicated by braided rhythmic ideas. They remain often resolutely anti-chordal music, implying chordal motion but sticking largely to a modal context that makes layering their multiple musical ideas a great deal easier (and more pleasing to the ear) than if they had a lot of harmonic motion clouding up the space.
We often hear discussed a retro ’50s aesthetic, the old death knell of retroism and nostalgia; this is the ’50s I am nostalgic for, replete with the Marxist avant-garde storming the gates of orchestral music and jazz, blooming like algae in the veins of experimental novelists and poets. The four circles of the cover linger outside the outlines clearly meant to contain them but never fall on precisely the same point in relation to their shell; the rhythmic perfection of the image is broken, swimming back and forth in the eye from the perfection of the general shape to the honed imperfection of the final form. Compare this to the taut tessellations of previous covers, their mathematical beauty. This is, of course, no less mathematical and certainly no less beautiful; Horse Lords are simply opening up, braving new wilds.
“Law of Movement” develops across drones and sound design over pure rhythmic information, not strictly a new space for the group but certainly a new prominence given this is the centerpiece of the record. Their boldness is rewarded. After the blistering rhythmic virtuosity of “Fanfare for Effective Freedom,” the opener on their previous record which saw the band spiral through a dizzying set of layered polyrhythms one by one with sharp enough precision to make any drummer boil with jealousy, this organic sense of developmentalism is the obvious way to go. Given that tautness, discipline and control (how Marxist) is their sonic calling card, one wonders how far down into the rabbit hole of more loose-limbed material they can possibly go. Given these songs and the masterfulness of this record, it’s a journey I’m excited to continue to take with them.
Label: RVNG Intl.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.