Horsegirl – ‘Versions Of Modern Performance’ review: a feast of huge, swaggering rock thrills

The teenage trio's accomplished debut album fizzes with songs that hit the sweet spot between experimental and anthemic

Although it might often get overlooked in favour of scenes based on either coast of the US, Chicago has long held a tradition of producing exhilarating young talent that shakes up the world of alternative music: Wilco, The Smashing Pumpkins and more. Spearheading its latest youthful revolt are Horsegirl, a trio of teens who’ve been snapped up by the legendary label Matador [Interpol, Queens of The Stone Age] and are swiftly winning plaudits in their hometown and much further afield.

It takes just one listen to their debut album, ‘Versions Of Modern Performance’, to understand why: compelling from its first note to its very last, the record presents a band who, yes, are still in their infancy, but clearly know who they are and what that sounds like. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but its rushes of no wave-tinged indie-rock are fit to burst with infectious energy and intriguing experimentation that there’s no danger of it feeling old and staid.

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Horsegirl began life when its three members – drummer Gigi Reece, and guitarists and singers Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein – bonded over their love of Sonic Youth. You can hear that iconic act’s DNA creeping through the songs, mixed with elements of Guided By Voices, The Clean and more. ‘The Fall Of Horsegirl’s ominous, dark instrumentation, complete with sawing swathes of discordancy, feels inspired by John Cale, while ‘Live And Ski’ shares similarities with Wire’s murkier moments.

Lyrically, the group build their own, almost impenetrable world, drawing you in with cryptic tales and lines that feel like riddles. “I’m on the run from the severed leg of my son,” they sing on the bright swing of ‘Option 8’. “Fall on the day when your body will break and you’re done.” Closing track ‘Billy’, a lush mesh of sunny distortion and Reece’s splashing drums, offers softly sung scenes like: “Billy has a little nickname for his paradise / He folds it up and sets it on the mantelpiece to look real nice.” Who or what they’re talking about is far from clear, but it’s intriguing enough to keep you engaged throughout.

Horsegirl’s lyrical conundrums match the sense of fun and subtle humour that runs through the record as a whole. It’s peppered with bitesize instrumentals that come with tongue-in-cheek titles like ‘The Guitar Is Dead 3’ – a piece led by glacial piano lines intertwining with each other – and the aforementioned ‘The Fall Of Horsegirl’, which follows their earlier EP ‘Ballroom Dance Scene et cetera (best of Horsegirl)’. The rest of the world might be taking them very seriously right now, but the three friends at the heart of it all are keeping things light as they prove themselves one of the most exciting new bands around.

horsegirl debut album

  • Label: Matador Records
  • Release date: June 3
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