Writing about a Horse Lords album is a daunting task. The Baltimore-based quartet creates music at a level of technical musicianship that can feel inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t directly studied music theory or read enough about it to pretend that they have. As someone who has regrettably done neither of those things, I’m obligated to quote others in order to do justice to some of the subtler points of brilliance in their music.
“By escaping equal temperament” (where a major third is four semitones) and using the pure harmonic intervals of just intonation” (where a major third is exactly a 5:4 ratio), Horse Lords are able to harness previously obscured textural, timbral and psychoacoustic possibilities, exploring perceptual phenomena in ways that, until recently, were technically impractical for touring bands.” (The Wire, November 2022)
So yes, this is heady stuff. But what potentially makes the newly-released Comradely Objects even more impressive is its ability to maintain this headiness and still stir the heart – or at the very least, the body.
Another math rock band once intimated that if you can’t vibe with “The Peter Criss Jazz,” you must be dead. Similarly, if you can’t find anything to vibe with on Comradely Objects… well, you’re probably not dead, but I’d cautiously suggest that you’re not living your best life.
Although it might not be mentioned in the peer-reviewed journal articles that are probably already being writing about this album, Horse Lords know how to work a groove. This comes out most clearly on the twisted disco stylings of “Mess Minds,” but it crops up everywhere: the hard bop horns on “Rundling,” the slinky bass on “Solidarity Avenue,” the muscular guitar riff on “Zero Degree Machine” that sounds like Bombino soloing over a Don Caballero track.
But what makes these music nerd’s music nerd’s take on groove so notable is its refusal to cater to complacency. If you’re not sure what that means, take a look at the album’s cover art: the perfectly symmetrical clipping of a Cartesian grid with hollowed points and four grayish circles sized to fill those points but positioned ever-so-slightly outside of them.
Horse Lords’ songs feel like that. Notes land just a hair off from where you expect them to. Rhythms and melodies develop into something approaching familiarity, but with just enough variation to pull you off balance. From a songwriting perspective, the results are exceptionally effective. Take “Plain Hunt on Four,” an 8+ minutes song constructed of what sounds like the same two bars that stays fresh throughout because your brain never quite nails down where all of the notes are going to fall.
That said, Comradely Objects is not an exercise in randomness. Calculated and precise repetition are a key building block of its minimalist compositions; the deceptive messiness comes from the complexity with which these blocks are combined into Escherian aural architecture. Horse Lords are playing three-dimensional chess here, crafting songs that tesseract like fractals in an algorithmic simulation. I don’t at all regret being here for the ride.