New Zealand’s Spook the Horses continue to defy expectations with their third full-length album, People Used to Live Here.
As their career thus far has shown, Spook the Horses are not bound by genre limitations and flourish within their own artistic freedom. The band is in a constant state of evolution, unafraid to experiment with other musical styles and sounds. 2011’s Brighter was a dense, atmospheric marriage between post-rock and brooding post-metal, resulting in a enthralling dichotomy between soothing and crushing. In stark contrast, 2015’s Rainmaker retained its predecessor’s post-metal stylings, but introduced sludgier guitars and more angular post-hardcore elements into the mix. Fast-forward to 2017 and the band have once again modified their sound and the results are staggering, but in a very positive way.
On People Used to Live Here, the band’s ties to anything in the metal world have been shed in favor of something more minimal, stripped-down and atmospheric. The record is awash with sprawling, simplistically elegant guitar work that varies between doomed rock dirges and pseudo jazz crawls. It paints in shades of Hex and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull-era Earth, Bohren & der Club of Gore (sans saxophone) and much of the Denovali Records catalog, opting to purvey varying degrees of moodiness rather than pummel with metallic weight.
“Lurch” kicks things off to a sinister start, pulling listeners into a subtly foreboding atmosphere in which anything could be lurking around the corner. The guitars slowly creep along with a brooding sense of melody, intertwined in haunting ambiance, while the drums steadily plod along. As it progresses, the instrumentation becomes brighter and seemingly upbeat, but contrasting serpentine guitar lines slither beneath this jubilant display and keeps things rather unnerving. Though the rest of the album isn’t quite as dark as this particular track, it maintains a gloomy feel.
Following “Lurch” comes the brief “Crude Shrines”; a two-minute doom rock number that weaves together depressive, Earth-style desert riffs and somber clean vocals. This drone rock style continues in the slow-burning instrumental, “Blessed Veins”, which crafts swelling, melancholic psychedelia that is propelled by lumbering guitars and simplistic, yet driving percussion.
But the album really hits its stride in tracks like “Made Shapeless”, “Near Then, Far Now” and “Following Trails”, in which the band utilize gorgeous vocal harmonies to provide a luminous contrast to their gloomy brand of rock. Blending elements of post-rock and “slowcore” à la Low and Bluetile Lounge, these tracks offer beautiful and straightforward guitar work that are rife with hypnotic repetition and shimmering melody. Minimal synth flourishes often hum beneath the instrumentation as the commanding vocals escalate into powerful choruses, casting a bit of light among everything.
People Used to Live Here is a hauntingly beautiful opus that is arguably some of the best material from Spook the Horses to date. There’s no telling what the band will have in store next, and that fact alone is exciting.
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Label: Pelagic Records
Favorite Tracks: “Lurch”, “Blessed Veins”, and “Made Shapeless”
For Fans Of: Earth, Bohren & der Club of Gore, Bluetile Lounge and Codeine