This is sort of part two to the Nals Goring mystery I began to unravel yesterday. When Nals a.k.a. Zach Phillips isn't releasing things like "3 INDEXES OF URBAN OUTFITTERS' EARLY SPRING CATALOG" on his OSR Tapes/Dax Bills imprint he's releasing things like these two tapes. Horse Boys is Phillips's neo-ragtime project, the other Horse Boys tape he put out was one of the best records of last year despite being an '08 release, and Big French is a new "folk-pop" trio of Nals Goring, Nals Gorman and Sarah Smith (of Sord and I think Cave Bears as well.)
Toyota appeared ominously early in the year predicting the Toyota recall, which is just another reason why middle-America should be listening to Big French (maybe if they renamed themselves Big Freedom? Is that joke so old it's fresh again? No? Okay.) Anyway, I love this tape. It's got some of the weirdness you'd expect from its purveyors but it also has a lot of really great songs.
Beginning with the half-minute not-quite-a-song vocal and dulcimer assault "-----" the tape picks up with one of its finest songs "Using the House." It's a catchy, fast-paced pop ditty for acoustic guitar and vocals with a great backing band of recorder and keyboard plinks. Though it doesn't make it much farther than a minute, it makes quite an impression. "Teenagers" is stranger with distorted vocals, scrappy guitar and percussion managing to hit the exact midpoint between pop song and straight up clatter. "Down to the River" is another gem of songcraft. Starting with a fantastic base chord progression, the strangled vocals carry a surprisingly potent melody. After a long build up, a wonderful huffing accordion contributes a nice counter melody. Great song. "1995" is a grooving instrumental interlude of a couple keyboards and a percussively strummed acoustic guitar. "I Got Bent" is the record's default sappy ballad and it's beautiful. I don't actually know what it's about and for all I know it's a parody of this kind of song with lyrics like "I was feeling like it was yesterday but it was today" but if it's a parody the reason why it works is it follows all the rules. It's got a sweetly melodic, "na, na, na" chorus and everything. I'm half-expecting these guys to put out a box set of c-90s covering the entire Leonard Cohen catalog next. So how do they follow up their tender, beautiful ballad? With another one! Equally as good, and with an even more hushed sensitivity and starkness, "Nothing Doing" is practically heartbreaking. "A.O.E.R." is played entirely backwards which I normally don't care for but once again, the melodies totally win out and the backwards dynamics give it a nice rhythmic thrust. "Watts" closes out the side in shambling minor key style. "Deer and Lakes" opens the second side. There's no songwriting credits or anything so I'm not even sure which Nals sings what song but it sounds like they both might be singing on this one. It's another great song slowly paced song. "Frowning" is similar to "A.O.E.R." except that it clocks in at about 14 seconds. The title track is just a short interlude with some skronky electric guitar before shifting into "Runnings" a bouncing acoustic guitar and vocal ditty. "Lamb's Bread" introduces melodica I think but it could be accordion or harmonica or something else and after a slow first section it turns on a dime to a fast avant-pop jam. "B" is another cool instrumental interlude leading into the Neutral Milk Hotel cover "My Dream Girl" which a very faithful rendition other than it is sung in an obnoxious, squeezed-nuts style. "Juniper" is sub-minute more or less instrumental song with someone imitating a singing saw with their voice. There's something pretty "deep" about that. "That's Right" another sub-minute tune closes the tape. It's got kind of a broken done feel reminiscent of really early Smog stuff except for the very high pitched vocals.
It's a great tape, solid 19 tracks through. Definitely recommended, one of my favorites from the year so far.
Unlike the previous Horse Boys cassette which, for the most part, was 30+ old timey piano pieces, this one messes way more with tape fuckery. There's no track listing like the previous tape so I don't know exactly how to go about structuring this review. What I would call the first track is a jumble of groaning tape warble and stately (and more wild) piano pieces. I dig the second track. After a recording of someone explaining the process of counting ("zero now. one next. two later.") there's a really nice piano piece that mellowly prances along into the next which slowly develops from a series of disjointed spurts of a couple notes. The next is a weird sped-up piano ballad with alien vocals and great piano work as always. It should be implied but it must be said, Phillips is a phenomenal piano player. Technically he's very good and he comes up with so many twisted, catchy melodies it's staggering. The song is interrupted by another non-pitch-manipulated song about a love affair which in turn becomes a great instrumental piece which becomes a kind of bluesy drum and piano duet. From there comes an oblique but utterly groovy percussive piano piece. The next opens with an advocate of the meat market before a frantic, garbled free piano and tape jam. From there, there is strange piece that resembles both a keyboard demo and a beat off The Game's first album. The next all too brief piece has a very nice and somewhat eerie melody. The second side opens with what could very well be a Big French demo, a voice and acoustic guitar song about sailing on a ship to shore. There's an out of tune trumpet in there too. Perhaps my favorite comes after that. A series of brilliant little melodies jammed together along with strange tape warble and whatnot. This morphs into a piano/voice jam along with toy piano, melodica and piano overdubs. The next piece is mostly minor key with an occasional zippy ragtime interjection. More piano sketches and voice samples and other such recordings follow until a straight up, sauntering lounge blues piece which seamlessly shifts to terse 70s cop-show style music at will. Among the last pieces are another piano/drum duet and if I'm not mistaken some gospel song sung by a random person Mr. Phillips asked to sing. In conclusion, if you haven't heard Horse Boys, you've really got to.
Both tapes are available I think, the OSR Tapes website just says "if you want something let me know and i will send it to you in time" so I'd say that's worth an inquiry.