Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Review: An Horse - Rearrange Beds

I've been planning to review the debut An Horse record for a few weeks now, and wouldn't you know it, the band went and pulled a major coup by performing on Letterman this very week (the youtube video is at the bottom). Congratulations to Kate and Damon.

With that out of the way, let's discuss the record, Rearrange Beds. First things first: if you own the debut Not Really Scared EP, you might be disappointed by the fact that all five songs from that release reappear on the album in fairly similar versions. The largest change to any of the songs is that 'Ledge' has been renamed 'Company', other than that they're fairly identical, if perhaps ever so slightly better recorded ('Shoes Watch' in particular benefits from more punch in its finale). Still, it's not like Not Really Scared was a roughly thrown together bedroom recording - Magoo was the man behind the desks for both records, a producer not often associated with poorly recorded product.

So, we have half a record that's almost identical to a previous record. That's not such a terrible thing, as Not Really Scared was a great little EP. The question now posed is whether the five new songs stand up to and expand upon the ones we've been living with for a number of months now. Not Really Scared was a very consistent record, perhaps to its detriment in some ways - there wasn't exactly a huge variety of sounds and moods explored in it's 15 or so minutes. However, given that we're now up around the 35minute mark, Rearrange Beds needs to throw a few more colours onto the musical canvas. Does it succeed? Well... kind of.

Pretty much the entire recording consists of mid-tempo, 4/4 indie-rock performed with guitar and rock-steady drums - there's no extra instrumentation other than some melodica in the final track, while the guitar tones range from 'mildly overdriven' to 'moderately overdriven', maybe with a little bit of echo when the band get really crazy. There's nothing that's going to knock you over sonically like the noisier bits of Iron On (as much as I'd rather not compare the two bands, there's no getting over the fact that An Horse sounds like a more sedate version of Kate's previous group). Additionally, Kate's style of guitar playing is generally limited to strumming out some barre chords, generally providing little more than a base for her vocals to sit on top of.

Because of this sonic consistency the band relies on their songwriting to keep us interested. In this they're somewhat successful; 'Little Lungs' spreads itself out over five and a half minutes of slow burning build, ending up as probably the best of the new songs, while 'Horizons' is a nice up-tempo pop song that would have made a pretty good Iron On track with a bit of Big Muff thrown over the choruses. However, I just can't get rid of the feeling that most of the best songs are the ones that have been previously released, and I don't think it's just because I'm more familiar with them - 'Scared As Fuck' is still the best thing the band has written, 'Camp Out' is still their catchiest number. 'Little Lungs' is probably the only new song that is of the same level of quality as the Not Really Scared tracks.

I like this record, I really do, and I like this band. I think it's great that they're doing well. I guess I was just expecting more from Rearrange Beds. To say that it offers 'more of the same' from the band is something of an understatement - it would have been better to have just released this as an EP and perhaps picked the best song or two from each release to go on a full length at a later date. Either that or have worked on it for a bit longer so that at least 2/3 of the record was new material. Still, if you haven't bought a copy of Not Really Scared yet and you like guitar pop then this album is a no brainer. If you've already purchased the previous EP then I guess it comes down to how keen you are for more from the band.

Anyway, here's their performance of 'Camp Out' on Letterman.

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