Simply reading about Horse Lords could never do their music justice. Given their unusual tuning systems, 20th-century classical reference points, and their band members’ assorted avant-garde credentials, it would be easy to assume that access to the Baltimore-based group is closed off to all but a narrow class of intellectuals. But such an assumption can be disproven from even the earliest moments on The Common Task. Opener “Fanfare For Effective Freedom” is as powerful an introduction to the band as any, the mesmerizing power and precision of their polyrhythms immediately on display. For all of its cerebral ambitions, this is really dance music at its core, and the grooves quickly prove irresistible, prompting involuntary head nodding even as the music’s rhythmic center continuously shifts. Though a rock band in form (the quartet is made up of a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a saxophonist), most of the music that Horse Lords are drawing from falls far outside the confines of western rock music. Close listening reveals influences ranging from gamelan to Terry Riley to contemporary computer music to Mauritanian guitar techniques, among others, all of which prove more essential than the American math rock that they might vaguely resemble on the surface. Nevertheless, an understanding of said influences is by no means a prerequisite for enjoying Horse Lords. Their work speaks to the body just as much as it does the mind; avant-garde aesthetes and tripped out ravers alike can easily find something to love here.
Published as part of Top 25 Albums of 2020 — 25-11.