Horsegirl Gallop Into Noise Pop's Future on 'Versions of Modern Performance'
Published Jun 01, 2022Horsegirl have crafted a multifaceted world around their music. It's a world of cryptic zines and primitive, hand-painted merch; of lo-fi music videos in which an antiquated overhead projector strewed with buttons and scraps of paper is the conduit for an affecting tale of love adrift. The band are the main characters at the centre of this Horseworld yet remain one step removed from it, seemingly viewing from afar. Stitched into the city of Chicago, they are cut off from the suburban girls with hair like horses' manes who gave them their band name. That sense of detachment is further confirmed by their favoured social media caption, a third-person question: "What is Horsegirl up to??!"
With Versions of Modern Performance, Horsegirl's first record, they're stepping out of the shadows with whip-smart artisanship and supreme coolness, illuminating a propitious future for fuzzy guitar music. Feeding off the creative cornucopia that surrounds it, the album is sonically rich. Sheets of variegated guitars channel the woozy lilts of shoegaze pioneers on tracks like "Bog Bog 1." This noisescape interlude, the first of three that divide the album, is the sound of moving through thick, grey clouds. Occasional threads of gold peek through when clusters of notes hover over harmonious intervals.
Indeed, throughout the album, there is a vacillation between light and dark, harmony and dissonance. "Electrolocation 2," the solicitous sequel to "Bog Bog 1," creates lighter textures by drawing a violin bow across guitar strings, while the low-string drones and chirping harmonics of "Beautiful Song" call to mind gulls departing choppy seas. Elsewhere, the playing of vocalist-guitarists Penelope Lowenstein and Nora Cheng is more pointed, such as the wiry, single-string riff from lead single "Anti-glory," twisting through murmuring vocals instructing listeners to dance.
If dancing is inspired, it's likely a head-down, feet-shuffling sway, for the horse girls sing as though averting their eyes from observers. "Don't let them see you," they murmur on "The Fall of Horsegirl," their intonations beautifully sullen, like a flower growing on the side of an interstate. The vocals are delivered as an ego-free collective in contrast to their masquerading as a singular entity (they aren't called Horsegirls). This furthers a sense of ambiguity — their voices either tumbling over one another, or hiding in confidential whispers. The results are muddy pools of impressionistic vignettes, which lead from transcendent nights spent driving around Chicago ("Anti-glory"), to literary character studies that address mental health ("Live and Ski"), to benevolent declarations of young love ("World of Pots and Pans").
Like the eponymous protagonist from "Billy," Horsegirl spend time counting change. The talismanic coinage displayed on the album's cover art — a Singapore 20-cent, an Irish penny, a US dime, etc. — is both a calling card for a mysterious, noisenik superhero while also speaking to their methodical, almost mathematical songwriting instincts. The girls excavate their record collections and reference favourites in their lyrics. "World of Pots and Pans" alone nods to the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Cure, Tom Verlaine, and Gang of Four. Yet Horsegirl are far more than a spin-off of these groups. They take an old projector, so to speak, but use it to communicate malaise and affection with imagination and intellectualism distinctly their own.
Despite Horsegirl's impressive feats in their nascence, the song names — "The Fall of Horsegirl," "The Guitar is Dead 3" — reveal the members' self-awareness of their place within indie rock modernity and a self-deprecating sense of humour that juxtaposes their music's formidable murkiness. This outlook is maintained by their friendship. After all, behind the elusiveness are three friends whose favoured pastimes include dancing to Brian Eno, eating Indian food, and cutting each other's hair. It's Horsegirl against the world.
"To the adults at the Yo La Tengo show who said we were too young to like good music (and made fun of Penelope for bringing her backpack): kids are going to bring punk rock back," they wrote on Instagram. They are right, of course. With clear priorities and unsaddled creative impulses, Horsegirl are the authoritative future of noise pop. With their help, we too can run free. (Matador)