• John Van de Mergel

Albums | Holy Motors, Horses


Ze zijn jong, komen uit Estland en maken dromerige countrypop. Wat hen net boven het gemiddelde tilt is de mooie, zwoele stem van Eliann Tulve die qua kleur en sfeer doet denken aan Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star). Maar ook de prachtige, metaalachtige, galmende (americana) klank van de gitaren van Lauri Raus (tevens de belangrijkste songwriter) en Gert Gutmann. Samen met de zachtstrelende drums (Caspar Salo) wordt een klanktapijt van ingetogenheid en troosteloosheid geweven. Denk aan Amerikaanse westerns als Badlands, zij het dan met een lichte rockabilly twang. Een minpuntje wat mij betreft is dat zo goed als elk nummers diezelfde sfeer uitdament en het geheel als album wat saai wordt. Road Stars, een duet met ik-zou-het-begot-niet-weten, en Life Valley springen er wat uit. Het eerste omdat ik het nummer totaal niet aanvoel en de mannelijke stem me absoluut niet ligt. Het tweede omdat het een machtig prachtige afsluiter is die helemaal drijft op de sublieme gitaarsound en je zo meevoert richting ondergaande zon.


Voor fans van Mazzy Star en Cowboy Junkies.


Releasedatum: 16 oktober 2020


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Though their music has often been tied to the traditions of Americana and American roots music, Holy Motors were formed in Tallinn, Estonia in 2013, when founding member Lauri Raus (songwriter and one of the band’s three guitarists) recruited Eliann Tulve, just 16 at the time, to join the band as songwriter and lead vocalist. With Tulve’s gorgeously foreboding vocals serving as a ballast for the guitar section’s “infinity-pool-style shimmer” (Pitchfork) the band quickly became as un-ignorable as they were inscrutable, rising from the ranks of eager supporting act (for Low, at SXSW) to sought after headliner (at NYC underground-meets-above-ground mainstay Berlin) in just a matter of days during their first unofficial tour of the US in 2018.

That same year marked the release of their critically acclaimed debut LP, Slow Sundown, on New York City’s Wharf Cat Records, an album that garnered praise and airplay not just in the band’s native Estonia (where it won Tallinn’s Music Week award and a nomination for Debut Album of the Year by the Estonian Music Awards), but also via a battery of publications west of the Baltic, including Stereogum (Album of the Week),  Bandcamp (Album of the Day), and DIY (Neu Pick). All this momentum went so far as to capture the attention of one of the band’s very own idols, Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who approached them after seeing a live performance in Berlin and would go on to produce a handful of tracks for the band in 2019 as well as join them for their set at Switzerland’s Festival Nox Orae (you can watch the full set here) during a summer itinerary dotted with European music festivals. 

But rather than being blunted and worn down by the tumultuous forces of success, Holy Motors’ incongruence has instead grown all the more prevalent and endearing. They remain musicians from an ex-Soviet country producing music that has been described as “cowboy dream-pop with a dark side” (Interview Magazine), “shoegaze that sounds like the old West” (The Fader), and like “a twang-filled soundtrack to... cowboy melancholy” (Beat). The resulting mystique is an inalienable part of the band’s DNA, stemming from the shared infatuation with the American West that the members developed waiting out Estonia’s long, grim winters with the warm company of American western films (Badlands and Paris, Texas amongst their favorites) and their instruments. What began as an innocent fascination evolved into a sincere embodiment of that dreamy, melancholy cowboy aura, both in their music and persona as a band. 


From the album’s opening moments, songs like 'Country Church,' with its major key and classic rhythm and blues guitarline, and 'Midnight Cowboy,' which sounds like a lost Buddy Holly 45 played at 33 rpm, make it clear that Horse — even if it may not accomplish the impossible task of demystifying this band of ex-Soviet cowboys — will at least show you that there’s more to them than the near-impenetrable darkness of their work to date may suggest. While tracks like 'Trouble' and 'Endless Night' gravitate towards the ethereal production and existential subject matter of prior releases, repeat listens will reveal the same complex compositions and humanity that are much more a hallmark of Horse’s eight songs.  As a whole, Horse stands as a warmer, more human counterpoint to the celestial Slow Sundown and showcases Holy Motors as a hypnotic force that draws listeners in and leaves them wanting more. This effect, paired with their ability to write lyrics and music that resonate with the lonely side we all have, has allowed them to connect with people from devoted shoegaze and western psychedelia fanatics to dreamer cowboys, driving through wide open country roads under the stars.



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