Desolation Horse by Desolation Horse album review by Steven Ovadia for Northern Transmissions

American Standard Time Records

8.7

Desolation Horse

Desolation Horse

Desolation Horse’s self-titled album is pop grandeur wrapped in lo-fi textures, with a focus on grooves and straight forward-yet-surreal lyrics that recall Lou Reed at his Brill Building best (minus Reed’s unrelenting darkness). You’re left with a fun, pop- oriented album written for adults who like their music askew.

Desolation Horse is session drummer Cooper Trail, with Trail handling most of the album’s instruments, in addition to the vocals, which have a deadpan tone like Reed in his less caustic moments. Recorded in 2018, it’s now getting a larger release via American Standard Time Records.

Trail’s drumming background shows on the album, not in an ostentatious way, where it sounds like he’s sitting behind a 200-piece kit, the entire album mixed behind him, but more in his appreciation of an interesting beat and his willingness to engage with bass lines without making songs feel like you’ve wandered into a jam session. The title track is a pretty melody that grows and shrinks with the song as it unfolds over almost seven minutes. Trail provides drum fills that you only notice after repeated listenings, making you aware of how he’s discretely using the drums as a lead instrument, even while also holding down the groove. It’s almost jazzy in its persistentness, but the vocal is so simple and pretty, the track never feels like prog rock.

Desolation Horse also has some charmingly trippy lyrics. “I Had In My Hand a Hand” is driving New Wave with crests of surf guitar and the wonderful lyric, “The apartment was cold and clean / My horse was parked outside / By the air conditioning / I have in my hand a hand / Attached to my arm and a neck to a body.” The words’ weirdness grabs you, suddenly answering the perennial question, ‘What would Salvador Dalí’s band had sounded like if he had grown up in the Pacific Northwest?’

While Trail doesn’t have a traditionally rich voice, he uses it well and has some gorgeous moments with it. “A Little Freaky” is slow, with Trail providing a drum beat that barely keeps up with the song’s already lagging tempo. The effect is like waiting for something to kick in. The spartan arrangement, which somehow sneaks in rhythm-and-blues guitar stabs, also lets Trail cut loose with a surprisingly soulful vocal, the album’s strongest. And “Crumarine Creek” is a short acoustic song, sans drums, that sounds caught live, the track trailing off in noise, rather than coming to a formal stop. Trail sounds relaxed and sincere on it, showing off yet another vocal dimension.

Too many artists find a great hook and only want to push it forward, afraid that somehow the listener might miss it. Trail is fearless in his willingness to let his captivating melodies sit down in the song, like they’re any other part of the track, no more or less special. The effect of that restraint is that his songs subtly come at you,
unveiling their beauty and complexity over repeated spins.

Order Desolation Horse here