Horse Lords - As It Happened: Horse Lords Live LP
Label: RVNG Intl.
Release Date: March 29th, 2024
Almost all bands do it backward and upside-down. They start with years of playing live, creating their music in the crucible of performance with all of its impurities and in-the-moment inspirations, before committing said music to a recording that fixes it into an ostensible, exemplary form that eternally serves as an ultimate reference. And then maybe, someday, a few albums down the road, when the tours are shorter and less frequent and the cupboard is looking a little bare, they excavate and massage some favorite board recordings into a live album to fill a gap in some capitalist imagining of "career."
Horse Lords are not like most bands. The Baltimore-founded, now internationally dispersed quartet puts performance at the center of its practice and approaches the studio as an entirely separate tool. The band's intricate, polyrhythmic music is tightly composed and complex, leaving little room for improvisation. But elements of chance in Horse Lords' music make it sometimes unpredictable in the moment, even to the musicians. After the pandemic forced the band to work more deliberately in the studio in composing and recording their most recent album, Comradely Objects, it felt right to assemble some recordings that both capture their galvanic performance attack and subtly interrogate the artifact of the "live album."
As It Happened: Horse Lords Live, then, both is and isn't the expected live set. It does capture Andrew Bernstein (saxophone, percussion, electronics), Owen Gardner (guitar, electronics), Sam Haberman (drums), and Max Eilbacher (bass, electronics) playing pieces familiar from their studio albums, as captured at a series of concerts across Europe spanning their multiple 2022 and 2023 tours. As It Happened is a mediated, sometimes obviously edited presentation of a live performance that strives for a certain level of idealization. The album "makes the present infinitely repeatable," says the band, "like a painting of a crashing wave can evoke an experience while being of a fundamentally different substance."
Inspired in part by recordings such as Miles Davis's heavily collaged and studio-manipulated album run from Live/Evil through to Dark Mag, the "non-documentary" art-rock supergroup album 801 Live, and even Grateful Dead's Live Dead, Horse Lords assembled these performances in part to "convey the artifice required to make a live record sound ‘live,'" the band continues. "[It] doesn't go far enough but hopefully can act as an invitation to think about these things."
The album works as both provocation and total jam. You don't have to know that the collapse in the middle of first track "Zero Degree Machine" arose from Eilbacher breaking and changing a string, or that it was edited from several minutes onstage to a few seconds on the finished album, but the brief caesura before the band plunges into the hurtling body of the piece only intensifies its impact. "The artifactual moments are part of what makes the record live," the band says, but "these are also edited for maximum effect." The vagaries of environmental sound allow elements of the band sometimes subsumed in the studio to surge forward, and captures the power of Horse Lords live, vibrating atoms of stale, sweaty air, into a remarkable and worthy simulacrum of their show.
Horse Lords' As It Happened: Horse Lords Live arrives just ahead of the band's first US tour in six years and will be available as a limited vinyl edition.