Post-rock intricacies, keyboard buzzes and paint-stripping riffs are well woven.
Adam Kennedy 2009
At first listen it’s difficult to draw sense from Desperate Living, the fourth album from California’s HORSE the Band, thanks to its sheer bloody-minded scope. Evolving their self-dubbed ‘Nintendo-core’ – essentially videogame sound effect-embellished hardcore punk – with almost progressive rock ambition, ordinarily that would make for unwieldy musical bedfellows.
From their oddly capitalised moniker down, though, HTB have scraped a living laughing in the face of ‘ordinary’ for the past ten years, through numerous hardships and line-up alterations. Delve deep and Desperate Living instead proves a watermark moment for the quartet.
Things begin to make a modicum of sense once you learn Desperate Living purportedly takes tangential inspiration from cult American trash filmmaker John Waters’ film of the same name, a flat-out deranged pro-gay late-1970s movie concerning a murderess on the run.
In 2008, HTB toured 45 countries across four continents, arriving home broke and broken. This is the direct result of their very own desperate living on the hoof, a record they freely admit kept the band, and quite possibly their sanity, together. The desperation is painted across a dozen tracks, too, from the moment frontman Nathan Winneke opens Cloudwalker with the screamed declaration, “We want to turn everything around”.
Refusing to stand still stylistically, post-rock intricacies, keyboard buzzes, paint-stripping riffs and Winneke’s versatile voice are woven into a prickly hessian that covers the psychopathic (Between the Trees) as convincing as the surreal (Golden Mummy Golden Bird).
A brace of inspired guest turns are most remarkable: Jamie Stewart, of confessional indie-rock oddities Xiu Xiu, adds his haunting quiver to Shapeshift, while Rape Escape encompasses everything Desperate Living stands for. A sprawling seven-minute monster that tempers jaw breaking hardcore with eccentric electronic breakdowns and boundless bombast, the summit arrives with an insanely grand Prokofiev outro from Ukrainian classical pianist Valentina Lisitsa. Preposterous on paper, it radiates a dizzying finality in practise, rendering Arrive, the album’s subsequent conclusion, nigh on surplus to requirements.
From desperation springs inspiration and HORSE the Band have turned a looming end into a commendably reinvigorated new beginning.