Horsegirl — ‘Versions of Modern Performance’ ALBUM REVIEW
On their debut outing, the Chicago trio perfectly actualise some sorely-missed no wave aesthetics, but perhaps wear their influences a little too visibly on their sleeve…
Does it sometimes sound like the guitars are way louder than everything else? Of course! Does it sometimes sound like we’re hearing everything through a tin can? Does it ever! But that’s the point of Horsegirl’s brand-spanking debut Versions of Modern Performance. Over the course of a high-velocity and unrelaxing 30-minutes, we are transported back to an era where every guitar tone sounded baggy; loose was cool, and tight was square. There’s an excitement about the trio; all three musicians share vocal duties, and all three absolutely read and understood the assignment that they’d play hard, fast, and with little regard for the quality of the recordings. Like the alt-rock and no wave movement of the era Horsegirl are clearly inspired by, there’s nothing delicate about their approach. Even on some of the album’s calmer tracks like ‘Live and Ski’ (calmer may be a slight understatement), their vocals merge with guitars strummed a tad too hard, everything in the mix slightly and deliberately “off”. It doesn’t erase the pleasantries, however — Horsegirl, after all, are teeming with belligerent angst and anti-2020 brute force; like a screen-time tracker alarm ringing out, the band bring us a healthy dose of 21st century disdain.
But like any other record that is clearly inspired by a whole era in music, it’s hard to make a case for Versions of Modern Performance bringing something new to the table. We should absolutely role out the red carpet for the return of the alt-rock fuzz done right, but it’s hard to make heads-or-tail of Horsegirl’s mission. Are they merely inspired by bands twenty-years their senior and want to join their ranks, or are they genuinely trying to bring a twist on this sound to a new generation? Does it even matter when the music is so good?
Questions aside, you don’t get the best out of that raw eighties and nineties post-punk, alt-rock whateverthefuck sound without going straight to the source. Production by John Agnello, famed for his work with Dinosaur Jr. and the Breeders, is further proof that the band knew exactly what they wanted when making this album. It pays off in spades. Agnello doesn’t let Horsegirl falter for a second, allowing the trio to play to their strengths, pay homage to their heroes, and make something engaging at the same time. Take album closer, ‘Billy’, a fuzzy number that joyously borders on anthemic, harmonic “ahhs” bring the song to life, a song on which the bond that ties these three musicians together could not be tighter. Or perhaps the interlude track ‘The Guitar is Dead 3’ that lulls you into a false sense of rest, before reminding you of the restlessness Horsegirl are striving for on follow-up ‘Homage to Birdnoculars’.
The biggest inspiration for this record, as far as this lowly writer can tell, is Sonic Youth — their clumpy and raw aesthetic lit up by an unwavering candle firmly in the grasp of Horsegirl, and surely Sonic Youth singer Kim Gordon would be proud. A lot of Gordon’s work with Sonic Youth questioned what a woman’s place was in a landscape largely dominated by men, ‘Tunic (Song for Karen)’ and ‘Kool Thing’ being two such songs from the band’s seminal 1990 record Goo. It’s exciting, then, to see three women so clearly inspired by Gordon’s music holding a torch to the shoe-gaze flecked ambience and gothic melodrama that Sonic Youth punctuated so perfectly into music at the time.
Versions of Modern Performance is a frolicking, all-gas thriller of an album, the fun and sometimes goofy lyricism (one of the song’s hooks is literally them counting to six, but somehow its brilliant) actually adds to the lo-fi crunch Horsegirl have seemingly perfected here. Thank god the music on offer is incredible, because somewhere else there’s a wannabe-Sonic Youth band of teens sounding corny as all hell right now, doing this music but infinitely worse; the undeniable quality of Horsegirl’s debut keeps it afloat amidst a wash of, at times, painfully obvious influences. So yes, while Versions of Modern Performance is teeming with personality and cracking tunes, it’s not exactly breaking down alt-rock’s door, it’s more politely knocking at it. Guess we’ll have to wait ‘til LP two to see what waits on the other side.
Horsegirl’s Versions of Modern Performance is out now via Matador Records.
Written by Connor Cudmore.