Delayed Plays: Versions of Modern Performance by Horsegirl

Thud-thick rhythms reverberate throughout the debut album from Horsegirl, a Chicago-based trio, that was released in early June. Think giant ocean waves crashing to shore that, when they retreat to the sea, reveal jagged guitar prints in the sand. The individual songs almost don’t matter, if that makes sense, as each crest folds into the next, powering it in a combustible yet sustainable manner. (To quote the bard Neil Young, “it’s all one song!”) Glorious, guitar-driven melodies rise and fall with controlled abandon and nest themselves in the soul. Think Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Sonic Youth, Opal, Curve and dozens more past and present, including—of the modern peers—Artsick, Vero and Vallens. In that sense, Versions of Modern Performance is akin to a sonic wormhole. Jump into it and where you land is anyone’s guess.

But trust me when I say this: You’ll enjoy the ride.

The album opens with “Anti-glory,” a rumbling jumble of a jigsaw puzzle that blends a punk ethos with post-punk irony. “Dance,” they chant in the chorus, aware that their flannel shirt-clad audience will, at best, nod their heads and/or sway to the beat. It bleeds into “Beautiful Song,” which—like many songs here—features lyrics seemingly from the Jackson Pollock School of Art. I.e. abstract expressionism in both principle and practice. The interstitial “Bog Bog 1” follows, with “Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)” and “The Fall of Horsegirl” picking up the abstract fun. Another interstitial, “Electrolocation 2,” furthers the mood before the uptempo “Option 8” offers a lyrically adroit retort to those who might question their rock ‘n’ roll dreams. “World of Pots and Pans,” meanwhile, is a poppy delight about the first flush of friendship. Here’s a live version:

The plunking of a piano accents the final interstitial, “The Guitar Is Dead 3,” before “Homage to Birdnoculars” revels in heavy guitars, a call to “fall into my wormhole,” and birdcalls. It’s a thing of quirky genius. The album closes with “Billy,” with a cacophony of guitars underlining an ode to a confused young man. It’s quite cool.

The songs, I suppose I should mention, are all collaborations between the band members, who met a few years back in Chicago’s all-ages indie-rock scene: Penelope Lowenstein (guitar, vocals), Nora Cheng (guitar, vocals), and Gigi Reece (drums). The first two trade off vocals and instruments (guitar, bass) throughout. John Agnello, who’s worked with the Dream Syndicate and Hold Steady (among many others), produced, while former Sonic Youth drummer and guitarist Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo guest on two songs.

In short, Versions of Modern Performance may not change the world, but it’s guaranteed to distract you from it. Some days, most days, that’s enough. It’s a cacophony of bliss. Crank it up!

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