Horsegirl: Versions of Modern Performance (Matador) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Versions of Modern Performance


Jun 02, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Horsegirl’s debut album more than delivers on the promise of the trio’s early singles, which sound more like rough sketches in comparison to Versions of Modern Performance’s fleshed out sound. The formula of Penelope Lowenstein and Nora Cheng’s shared duties on vocals and guitar along with Gigi Reece’s insistent beat is a winning one. And adding equal helpings of fuzzed-out noise alongside foolproof melodies ups the ante further. A flair for oblique, but interesting, lines and wordless harmonies in all the right places cements Horsegirl’s approach as one that gives them an edge over the hordes of fledgling bands out there.

The album was recorded post their signing to Matador with veteran producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Waxahatchee) and runs the gamut from no-wave inspired clangor (“Live and Ski”) to full throttled rockers (“Option 8,” “Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)”). In between the band operates comfortably in a melodically messy zone recalling their self-proclaimed ’90s heyday heroes like Sonic Youth and Pavement. But given the group’s early stage DIY inclinations, earlier bands such as Mission of Burma come to mind on more militantly paced tracks like the opener “Anti-glory.” Reece’s drums set the pace here, while Cheng and Lowenstein intone commands to “dance” over guitar lines that alternately zoom and fade. “Option 8” is fueled by the same primal fire which advances furiously over lyrics that ominously warn the listener to “stand straight, don’t be late.”

If Lowenstein and Cheng’s layered vocals on songs like “Anti-glory” and the trippier “World of Pots and Pans,” are one of the group’s strong suits, their predilection to lapse into wordless harmonies at just the right moment is their ace in the hole. The best example being the ever escalating dynamic of “Dirtbag Transformation” that in the end amps its tension even further on a minute long outro of an “ooh-ooh-ooh” chorus. Likewise, a series of “aah’s” and “bah bah bah dah’s” buoys “Beautiful Song” along its course. And when lyrics are more clearly heard they can be distressing, but unclear, as in “Live and Ski”’s “a present for her mother, who is drowning in the bay.” The urgency echoes early no-wave trio, Ut, with a trace less existential dread. While other songs, like “World of Pots and Pans” have a sunnier disposition in celebrating the early days of finding a new friend while cleverly twisting the central “love/lust” lyric of Gang of Four’s “Damaged Goods” into a more elevated thought.

Truly there are no weak tracks on Versions of Modern Performance, where even the handful of instrumental snippets (“The Guitar is Dead 3” echoes Daydream Nation’s “Providence”) serve as transitions to some of the album’s most muscular songs. Over the course of the album, Horsegirl show they can tackle all manner of post-punk territory, while never losing focus on the value of a well timed hook or buried melody. Whether it’s the pummeling of “Option 8” and “Dirtbag Transformation” or the grimier allure of “Billy” and “Anti-glory,” highlights abound. And on repeated listens, even the more atonal “Live and Ski” and “The Fall of Horsegirl” slowly reveal their charms. To call Versions of Modern Performance a promising beginning would be to sell short all that it accomplishes. That’s not to say that pondering what comes next isn’t a worthy exercise. (

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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