REVIEWED IN WORDS: An Horse – Walls (Mom + Pop/Shock)
by Victoria Birch
The ‘An’ started to bug me. Of course it’s purposely awkward; designed to get stuck on the roof of your mouth. You have to force both words out: An. Horse. It really is an ugly sounding phrase. Huh – well there you go. It’s quite possibly a case of conditioning but there are certain things in the English language that just work. Sticking a consonant after ‘an’ isn’t one of them.
In a parallel universe Walls is an album I really like. In this universe, my attention span wandered off around the halfway point and started messing around with An Horse’s grammatical incongruity. At first I thought it was an editing issue; someone clearly needed to jettison 25 minutes of material. That was before I twigged Walls was actually around 40, not 60+ minutes (as the final four songs dribble into one over-long ballad it certainly feels like the latter).
In my alternative reality, the album I like is sweet and ballsy. Full of crude, snotty-nosed arrangements tacked on to thoughtful, attractive vocal melodies. It has traces of the Deal sisters’ grubby insouciance and Kristin Hersh’s brittleness. It has a backbone and spunk. In my actual reality, the album I don’t like treats its instruments like an embarrassing family member; if they HAVE to be around can we at least make sure they don’t do anything to upset anyone. With its brutish intro, ‘Dressed Sharply’ gives me no cause to think of anything but the here and now. When its percussion and guitars get sent to the back of the mix like a pair of naughty kids I start to wish this was a very different album. It doesn’t improve. Anything that might engage or, heaven forbid, offend is made to blend in or complement or enhance. Rhythms are descrete and mild-mannered. Guitars are affable. I don’t want the chorus of ‘Know This, We’ve Noticed’ to tickle me under the chin with a half-hearted crescendo. I want it to deliver on its threat and kick me in the teeth.
And what happened to all that knowing introspection I was looking forward to? On the album I could’ve liked, Kate Cooper tells me wrinkles are a motherfucking pain in the ass. That wrinkles are a surefire sign you’re inching towards death and away from attractiveness. On the album that tested my patience, Kate reaches for the self-help manual and tells me wrinkles are good. They “remind us of what we’ve done” so we should “thank god lines get deeper”. It’s the kind of thing PR reps get ageing actors to say when they can’t get work anymore.
The recording I hoped Walls would be is stranded somewhere in another dimension, but it’s not Kate Cooper’s fault. Well, not the fault of her voice anyway. It more or less delivers the melodic tones needed to offset my fantasy album’s gutsy backdrop. Aside from ‘Leave Me’ (where her voice pinballs around to disguise the fact there’s a tune missing) she invests in her affected American accent emotion that’s easy to buy. There’s breadth too, in the laboured drawl of ‘Mine’, the quiet enunciation of ‘Windows In The City’ and the almost shouty ‘Trains And Tracks’; all elements that help blur the lines between what is and what might have been. It’s not nearly enough though. The vocals may keep Walls from tipping over into the abyss but without some grit and grind to counterbalance it’s just some clunky sentiments that are quite nicely sung.
Cooper tries to reassure me, “Just sit tight it’ll be all right”.
But Kate, I really don’t think it will.