Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Last of the Best of 2009

Another fine album that I have little inclination to hear again but once I start listening I have no regrets.

Everyone likes a good mystery and what’s better than a mysterious rock band whose artists hide behind cartoon personas? You might think you know who they are but despite repeated listens and grasping at various sonic clues (“Hear that? So and so does that!”) you can never be 100% certain. However the rumor ‘round the water cooler is that for Neon Horse the vocals are by Stavesacre’s Mark Salomon while the majority of the music was written by Starflyer 59’s Jason Martin with his brother Ronnie, the keyboard wizard behind Joy Electric, taking up some of the synthesizer burden.

Haunted Horse: Songs of Love, Defiance & Delusion is the second album by this enigmatic group and it’s a bundle of creepy good fun! Upon hearing the first few songs my wife said it reminded her of coffins, even without seeing the cover art. While it’s far from the spookiest album in my collection there is most certainly an eerie vibe that runs throughout the ten songs. The biggest factor in Neon Horse being peculiar are the vocals, which is to say that there aren’t Theremins and overtly creepy melodies or sounds. But the vocals are certainly unorthodox. To shake things up, and help keep the mystery, there are either multiple singers or multiple voices, each one a bizarre, gravelly, almost cartoony manifestation. The one which really made my skin crawl sounds like Udo, the singer for the 80s German metal band Accept, a voice that sounds like it’s shredding itself with every syllable.

The music itself is an equally odd jumble of contradictions, a kind of noisy, sloppy guitar garage rock that falls face first into bizarre new wave. The list of influence is equally incongruous: ZZ Top, Devo, David Bowie, Talking Heads, AC/DC, Depeche Mode, Oingo Boingo, Steppenwolf, the Eurythmics. Which is to say that it sounds like everyone and no one. Songs like “Follow The Man” are full of loud, angular guitars with insistent piano while the amazing “Some Folks” feature a slinky bass laying out a sexy dance beat over moody keyboards. “Haven’t Sinned In Years!” is packed with gritty guitars and unnerving background vocals, in contrast to the twitchy new wave tale of lost innocence found in “Strange Town.” My own personal favorite is “Chain Gang, Bang Bang”, a raucous swinging party of a song full of horns, overlapping vocals, and competing melodies that are happy to distract you while you toil away.

No matter who they really are Neon Horse is comprised of artists who are more than capable of crafting a catchy tune, filling Haunted Horse with sleezy but safe rock songs, a kind of family friendly haunted house. This side project provides an equally safe haven where the musicians can let their hair down and have fun, a relaxed vibe that permeates each song, making this album a thrilling listen.

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