Horsegirl - Versions of Modern Performance
Jun 14, 2022
Chicago’s own Horsegirl (Nora Cheng, guitar and vocals – Penelope Lowenstein, guitar and vocals – Gigi Reece, drums) have released their long-anticipated debut full-length recording, “Versions of Modern Performance”.

In November of 2021, they released a single from this compilation, “Billy” that found it’s way to Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of “Songs You Need to Know”.

But the question remains…does the album live up to those lofty expectations?

For the most part, the musical element present in Horsegirl’s debut LP can have its DNA traced back to post punk pioneers Television, progressing forward through Gang of Four, Romeo Void, and newer bands like Franz Ferdinand and Silversun Pickups. The influence of musical acts from the 1990’s can be felt in atmospheric call outs to Early Smashing Pumpkins (another Chicago band) and the terse Britpop of Elastica.

Things kick off with the propulsive “Anti-Glory”. The scientific formula here is one part Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” and 4 tablespoons of codeine cough syrup, shake well, serve.

“Beautiful Song” starts with a promise of bludgeoning, dense Pumpkin-esque layers of guitar, but ultimately fails to deliver in the long run. It’s 2:57 of waiting for something to happen that never does, despite the fact that you’re waiting on a lovely summer day with a latte and a good book.

Part of the fun of jigsaw puzzles is seeing how all the jagged, weirdly formed pieces fit together to make something cohesive and “Live and Ski”, the third song on this release is just such a puzzle. In the tradition of janky, angular post punk it’s interesting to see how the parts fit together, while somehow refusing to find the synergy that would make the whole greater than the sum of said parts.

At this point, there is an inexplicable, (mostly) guitar interlude called “Bog Bog 1”, which is reminiscent of a random YouTube tutorial on the latest delay/reverb pedal.

“Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)” perks up a bit and is driven by a loopy, kinetosic, guitar figure courtesy of Nora Cheng that serves to buoy this otherwise lackluster track.

Atmospheric would possibly be the best term to describe the next two cuts, “The Fall of Horsegirl” and the instrumental “Electrolocation2”. Swirling, fuzzed-out guitar textures dominate the musical structure of both downtempo pieces, that would normally provide a much-needed breather with an album of more dynamic material than we have seen thus far. As it is, it’s much akin to waking up in the middle of the night to take a nap.

By contrast the next two, “Option 8” and “World of Pots and Pans” are driving, no-nonsense neo-grungepop with hooky choruses and vaguely head bob-able rhythms. It is in the latter that the band lyrically gives a nod to one of its musical antecedents with the line “Seven days and seven nights, I dreamt of horses and Verlaine”.

Track ten gives us forty-nine seconds of (admittedly gorgeous, yet wholly self-indulgent) reverb-soaked piano noodling, aptly titled “The Guitar is Dead 3”, whereas “Homage to Birdnoculars” borders on shoegaze lite and should ideally come with a dime bag of Kush and a beanbag chair with every purchase.

Closing out the release is the aforementioned single “Billy”. The venerable Rolling Stone didn’t miss the mark by much and while this might not be a song that you “Need to Know”, it’s certainly one that you probably won’t be regretful to have heard. A tight musical arrangement is complimented by intertwining vocal lines and an old-fashioned tempo increase rave-up at the end provides an outing that would get a chef’s kiss by any no-wave band worth its salt. It’s painfully apparent that the other tracks were constructed to support this single and disappointingly come in a bit below where the bar was initially set.

On the whole, musically and lyrically the band plies familiar waters, which is by no means necessarily a bad thing. Where “Versions of Modern Performance” falls short, however is in the band’s ability to build on their varied influences and develop them into a unique voice all their own. As it stands, practically everything on this release has been said before in some fashion, by other bands, in other times. To qualify, this is by no means a bad release, just one that’s a little light in the innovation department.

A novice sculptor approached the Master and beseeched him, “Master how is it you can sculpt such a divine example as the elephant?”. The Master replied, “My apprentice, I am old and shall reveal my secret. Simply take your hammer and chisel and remove everything in the marble that is *not* an elephant.” The student was enlightened and took up his hammer and chisel and approached the marble. Many hours later the Master came across his apprentice gazing forlornly at a pile of rubble on the ground. “Master, “he said, “I don’t think there was an elephant in that one.”
Unfortunately for Horsegirl, there is no elephant in this one either.

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