Brighton-based Dark Horses’ debut album Black Music is an LP that lives up to its name. Don’t expect catchy guitar riffs or sing-along vocals, this is an album full of anger, misery and self-indulgence and is probably best avoided if you’re looking for anything that doesn’t fit somewhere comfortably between either doom or gloom.
It’s quite obvious from the outset that producer Richard Fearless has had quite a hand in shaping Dark Horses’ sound. ‘Roses’, for example, with its droned bass dirge and gentle percussive thuds would fit comfortably on any Death in Vegas album.
‘Radio’ is one of the most accomplished songs on the album. Honeyed vocals drip melodically over shoegaze guitars and echoic tambourine splashes. This might be the result you’d get if My Bloody Valentine attempted some Motown covers. This is followed by the excellent ’Alone’: with its sleazy krautrock beats and driving bass-line, one is reminded of tracks like Primal Scream’s ‘Autobahn 66’ and Deerhunter’s ‘Nothing Ever Happened’.
It is after such a promising flurry of tracks that the album descends into derivativeness. There are some sporadic moments of note, but the album is so inconsistent that it is difficult to really invest in the songs in any meaningful way. Take for instance the country-tinged industrial dirge of ‘No Dice’, a song with dark booming percussion and desert dried guitar riffs that burst with potential but end up sounding lost and clumsy due to some questionable production choices.
The album dive-bombs further by the time we hit their cover of Talking Head’s ‘Road to Nowhere’. The song is stripped back, and everything that made the original so engaging is cast aside in favour of something twee and grating that will probably end up being used on some washing powder commercial. The last real song on the album, ‘Anna Minor’, manages to sound like something that PJ Harvey might have produced as a B-side in 1998.
The idiom of a dark horse conjures up images of mystery and potential - an underdog with hidden and unexpected talents. Unfortunately the metaphor doesn’t stretch as far as the band themselves who seem quite content with revisiting the same musical roads as acts like the Cocteau Twins, Howling Bells, and Death in Vegas. Black Music is an album of little remark that feels like it takes itself far too seriously. The sombre gloominess that Dark Horses seemed to be driving towards quickly veers off into mundane and incredibly dull territory that is as boring as it is derivative.
With the nights drawing in and the air getting colder, cold and gloomy music just doesn’t hit the spot and something more warming is in order – perhaps the musical equivalent of hot toddy sipped in front of a roaring coal fire.