Music Reviews

Horse Jumper of Love Keep the Dream of ’90s Lo-Fi Alive on SO DIVINE

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Horse Jumper of Love – SO DIVINE

Genre: Slowcore, Post-Duster

Favorite tracks: “Airport,” “Volcano,” “Poison,” “Ur Real Life,” “Nature”

When examining the impact of nostalgia on East Coast versus West Coast bands, conjuring the past is a largely Californian sensibility. In the past few years, however, a number of ‘90s-indebted acts have risen to the forefront of the Northeast’s DIY scene. Evoking Duster, Codeine, and Slint, a young community of scrappy but prolific artists have attracted national attention for their velveteen but jagged sound. Horse Jumper of Love, alongside Peaer and The Spirit of the Beehive, are the rising stars of a new wave of intellectually stimulating and lopsidedly humorous rock bands.

Horse Jumper of Love’s self-titled debut was a mysterious bramble of pleasantly chunky Fender Jaguar dissonance, with lyrics that shrouded indecipherable jocularity in childrens’-tale day-to-day imagery. Singer Dimitri Giannopoulos painted off -putting pictures, which on second glance were more relatable than they were uncomfortable. Although my first few listens through HORSE JUMPER OF LOVE left me confused and disoriented, the record has habitually stayed on repeat throughout the six months following my discovery of the Boston band’s memorable introduction.

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Their followup, SO DIVINE, definitely doesn’t switch up the formula they established two years ago, but it exaggerates archetypes embraced by the band’s influences and contemporaries. Slow riffing churns into hazy and vivid prose. Giannopoulos sings about acts as strange as pouring yogurt on plants on the track “Volcano,” and climbing through the ceiling of an airport on the song “Airport.” Though Horse Jumper of Love are more dismal than they are surreal, the unearthly nature of the music on SO DIVINE evokes Animal Collective’s SUNG TONGS, if the young Baltimore group emphasized pushing the boundaries of traditional instruments instead of manipulating samples, and is at times reminiscent of The Microphones, featuring more acoustic guitars than on the debut. Moments on the new record remind me of more polished expansions of the group’s 2016 odds-and-ends release DEMO ANTHOLOGY, gentle natural ambience and mumbled vocals eschewing the punk stylishness of the act’s previous professional recording efforts.

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The most fascinating element of Horse Jumper of Love’s music is that the rolling softness never becomes boring or disenchanting. The members seem like fun people in their interviews, but Giannopoulos’ musicianship and persona brings to mind J. Mascis’ stern reservation. Bad boy trepidation and cerebral charm coexist fascinatingly yet comfortably in the infinite grey landscapes crafted within the songs. “Ur Real Life” masks positivity underneath a rumbling instrumental that sounds like Yuck and Palm birthed a math-gaze messiah. Giannopoulos’ intent as a lyrical craftsman is never easy to grasp, but when the track breaks from aggression into the hook (“I’ll be okay / Under your real life”) it’s clear that the outwardly intimidating demeanor is held together by a tender and approachable frame. Bassist John Margaris and drummer Jamie Vadala somehow turn ambient singer-songwriter outlines into propulsive and gripping post-rock journeys. There is a clear camaraderie between the members of the group; that fact is made evident by their awesome Run For Cover Small Talk interview, but you can also hear it in the way the group so cohesively imagine some of the most dynamically interesting songs released in the 2010s. Precocious delicacies aside, after spending time with SO DIVINE, it is a weirdly warm, funny, and lovable record.

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Horse Jumper of Love are as preternatural as their name and it’s hard not to love them for it. Even though they’re another band rehashing late 20th century lo-fi, they feel like pioneers of the post-Duster wave. I don’t know exactly what it is that keeps me so hooked on their music, but I’ve listened to the band’s first release at least a dozen times by now. The anti-utopian  soundscapes of SO DIVINE are desolate, haunting, and hair-raising—I wouldn’t have the record any other way.

Ted Davis
Ted Davis is a culture writer and musician. He works in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC.

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