The immediately obvious difference between the two bands is comparative minimalism of the two-piece's sound - things are much more sparse and spacious than Iron On's crushing power chords, which gives the record a sense of vulnerability and fragility - it's totally fitting, as this release seems to be one of the most damaged and scared sounding records I've heard in a considerable time. Kate and Damon may well pound their instruments at times, but it always seems more like the two of them are lashing out in defense against an uncaring world (see: the final few minutes of 'Shoes Watch' or the unconvincingly defiant 'Scared As Fuck'). It's a seriously effective and affecting approach - hell, it can sound kind of terrifying in it's own way. The juxtaposition between galloping drums and reverb-laden vocals in the aforementioned 'Scared As Fuck' provides the perfect example of this mood - while Cooper sings 'I'm not really scared' the song sounds like the band is running for its life, completely petrified. Cooper has the perfect voice for this sort of music - forceful enough to cut through the band's noise, imperfect enough to be endearing, natural enough to sound authentic. And no fake American accent.
All of this isn't to say that An Horse have moved away from the members' previous bands' pop songcraft - far from it. 'Camp Out' could quite easily fit on an Iron On release if it had a bit more guitar muscle in the choruses, and there's plenty of melody in the vocals across the EP - Cox's backing vocals are used to good effect throughout. It should be noted that Cox is far from being a mere backing musician to Cooper's musical vision - his drumming provides a propulsiveness that is required to give the songs the vitality that they need. Since most of the tracks on Not Really Scared consist of a handful of chords played on a sole guitar, oftentimes it's the drums that provide the dynamic shifts between verses / choruses / middle eights. Most of the drumming walks a line between complexity and simplicity, and seems to be able to largely avoid repetition.
With the Iron On camp being very quiet since the release of The Verse, An Horse is the first of that band's splinter projects to have a record out (with Ian Rogers' doom/stoner-rock band No Anchor set to release an album later in the year and Ross Hope still to release any solo material). Hopefully we'll see that band returning to the stage and CD racks in due course, but in the meantime An Horse have released a highly successful and hugely rewarding work of their own. I keep harping on about Iron On in this review, and it's probably somewhat unfair considering the quality of this CD. Maybe one day Iron On will be the footnote in the story of An Horse, instead of the other way around.