There is a downside to precocious accomplishment that often manifests as softened expectations and tempered excitement. In early media coverage, Horsegirl cannot help but be pigeonholed as this phenomenon – it’s not every day that a couple of college freshman and a high school senior drop a record that is eerily reminiscent of indie icons Sonic Youth, Helium and My Bloody Valentine, just to name a few. Versions of a Modern Performance, the trio’s debut full length record, cannot help but be looked at as something of a novelty item – Look at these teenagers aping the classics! In that whirlwind of hype, Performance has taken on something of a life on its own, and early reviews range from calling the record a revelation to blowback-driven writeups calling the record contrived. The fact is, at it’s core Performance is a decidedly interesting and ambitious but ultimately mediocre record. One can’t fault the band for overreaching, but it leaves the listener with a final product that blurs the line between paying homage to your influences and making a poorly Xeroxed copy of them.
Opener “Anti-glory” certainly sets expectations high. Sounding like Dum Dum Girls writing their best My Bloody Valentine riff, the song is menacing and immediate, less segueing into a chorus than it is taking a break for oxygen. “Dance!” it says, or better, demands. As an opener, it varies into Fugazi-esque territory of being so tightly wound and constructed that it feels at times deliciously on the verge of blowing apart – but it never does. It’s an auspicious start to a hyped record; one cannot fault listeners for thinking they had the next big thing on their hands after hearing it.
Sadly, the record, while consistently interesting; never again quite hits those heights. Many times, Performance reads like a My Bloody Valentine cover band – competent and hitting the marks, but without the singular depth and brilliance of Kevin Shields. Songs stop and start, they meander, they bury themselves in swirling feedback and distortion. They sound the part. But there’s little no shimmer, or underlying beauty. When more refined 90’s indie bands offered light to offset the darkness, Horsegirl rarely relents. “World of Pots and Pans” gets closest to their hallowed forebearers; it could easily be a B-side from Sonic Youth’s Sister or Helium’s The Dirt of Luck. “Emma was my brand new friend / Fun to see how this one ends,” and the song is allowed to both percolate but also break free and fly even in a compact sub-three minute runtime.
Other experiments are far less successful. “Homage to Birdnoculars” (yes most of the song titles are this precious) rides a strong riff to nowhere in particular lyrically, and “Billy” apes A Sunny Day in Glasgow, all the way to the song being more of a start of an idea than anything fully formed.
All this is not to say the record is a failure. Horsegirl is asking all the right questions and chasing all the right influences; they just don’t necessarily have all the answers – but so few artists do, at this age or any (there I go again damning them with faint expectations). While Versions of a Modern Performance is not the transcendent record the hype suggests, nothing about this beguiling package suggests that the band doesn’t have it in them. Wise folks will be paying close attention as they evolve and tighten their sound.
Words by Ryan Self