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Horseback — Piedmont Apocrypha (2014)

 Horseback — Piedmont Apocrypha (March 25, 2014)

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Tais Awards albums nominée
Ξ   2013 was an uncharacteristically quiet year for Horseback.  While leader Jenks Miller released a solo record and the band put out a three disc compilation of limited and unreleased material, that was about it.  The result of that hiatus is Piedmont Apocrypha, an album that hits many of the touchstones Horseback has worked with before, but as an evolved, more nuanced album that is polished and more complex than what preceded it.
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Album release: March 25, 2014
Record Label: Three Lobed Recordings
Duration:     40:54
1. Passing Through     6:45
2. Piedmont Apocrypha     10:28
3. Milk and Honey     4:20
4. Consecration Blues     2:20
5. Chanting Out The Low Shadow     17:01
2014 Jenks Miller
Notes: LP released March 25, 2014 in a limited edition LP of approximately 1043 vinyl copies and is pressed on 140 gram Dutch black vinyl by Record Industry. The album is housed within a full color jacket bearing original artwork by Phil Blank. The album is accompanied by both a text insert featuring a new essay by Jenks Miller (not included with the CD version).
••»  The CD of "Piedmont Apocrypha" is housed within a full color jacket bearing original artwork by Phil Blank. Orders via this Bandcamp site include a digital copy of a new essay by Jenks Miller.
••»  All music written, performed and produced by Jenks Miller (Mask of Devon Music, ASCAP) at The Chateau, except "Chanting Out The Low Shadow," which was recorded by both Nick Petersen at Track and Field and Jenks Miller at The Chateau, and which features the following additional performers: John Crouch (drums), Nick Petersen (bass), and Rich James (guitar). The horns on "Milk and Honey" were performed by Troy Schafer and recorded by Nathaniel Ritter. Mastered by James Plotkin.
••»  “I was born to lose; i won’t have this form forever.” So begins Horseback’s fifth full–length studio record, Piedmont Apocrypha, with an incantation that could very well serve as the shapeshifting band’s raison d'etre. since before 2007, Horseback has served as a musical vehicle for multi–instrumentalist Jenks Miller (also of mount moriah and various solo outfits), chronicling his prolific, exuberant, and at times altogether whimsical investigation of heavy music(s) and their relationship with western mysticism. Thus far, horseback has embodied (and shed) many forms, from the serene, fuzzed–out, near neo–classical bliss of impale golden horn, to the caustic, poisoned noisescapes of forbidden planet, to the crushing psych–rock (black metal? you tell us!) found on the invisible mountain and half blood. while genre tags are difficult with shape–shifting bands like Horseback, some common threads are readily apparent across each of these records: regardless of the style, there’s some otherworldly, hypnotic quality in the music, conjured by ritualistic repetition and a layered depth in the instrumental arrangements. and each record demonstrates an unmistakable internal logic, its own a self–contained universe of sound. some have referred to Horseback records as riddles to be solved: once you crack the code, that sonic universe is yours to explore.
••»  Musically, Piedmont Apocrypha gestures to the pastoral hues of impale golden horn (released on vinyl by three lobed recordings for the first time in 2012), but there’s a structured quality to the tracks here that fits in line with horseback’s “rock” records. ••»  Make no mistake: this is a heavy record, but in the way comus’ first utterance is heavy, or in the way Amon Düül’s Phallus Dei is heavy. it is that patient, smoke-clogged, ritualistic vibe, solemn with the noticeable presence of layered organ and harmonium tones (perhaps a subtle nod to Terry Riley or even Olivier Messiaen). Indeed, for all its far–reaching strangeness, Piedmont apocrypha may be the most approachable horseback record yet: harsh vocals are used sparingly, sung (and otherwise intelligible) vocals are relatively prominent, and paint–peeling, high–frequency noise is almost entirely absent.
••»  As one might expect from its title, this record is also heavy with a sense of place. ••»  Thematically, Piedmont apocrypha takes on the skin–shedding revisionist history of North Carolina’s Piedmont region, a place of conflict, proud culture(s), and intertwined mythologies. The fact that both three lobed (Jamestown, NC) and Phil Blank (Chapel Hill, NC) are involved further emphasizes this record’s ties to the tar heel state.
Label: http://threelobed.com/
Bandcamp: http://threelobed.bandcamp.com/album/piedmont-apocrypha
••»  Drawing influence from doom, drone, black metal, and even Americana, Horseback is the post–metal project of Chapel Hill, North Carolina's Jenks Miller. With a sound that owes as much to Neurosis and Earth as it does to Neil Young, Horseback seamlessly blends the plaintiveness of roots music with the weight of metal, exposing a connection between the genres that is both intuitive and innovative. In a short time, Miller has delivered a prolific output of epic works, starting with Impale Golden Horn and followed by The Invisible Mountain (which was later reissued by Relapse) in 2009. Horseback also released the cassette–only Forbidden Planet, which was later bundled together with Impale Golden Horn and reissued as the two–disc set The Gorgon Tongue in 2011. Miller's fourth full–length as Horseback, Half Blood, was released in 2012. In the summer of 2013, Relapse issued a three–disc retrospective of singles, split recordings, live tracks, and other rarities as The Plague of Knowing.
••»  The most striking aspect of these five songs are how much they avoid the realm of heavy metal that Miller and crew has consistently dabbled in throughout the band's career.  This is pretty clear from the cover artwork:  instead of the usual monochromatic, stylized paintings that hint at the tropes of black metal, it instead is a folksy painting on a stark white background.  The music follows this shift in aesthetics, mostly stripped down when compared to the southern demonic rock of Half Blood.
••»  One thing that remains consistent though is Miller's expertise in conjuring the backwoods occult, a sense of evil lurking in the dense woods and a sinister undercurrent to stereotypical southern hospitality.  "Passing Through" is an excellent example of this:  based upon a traditional sounding cyclic blues motif with a country twang, the snarling vocals and piercing feedback signify an evil barely being contained.  The same feel comes through on "Milk and Honey," with the initial field recordings conveying bleak isolation as the gentle organ and guitar chime away, more mournful than malignant.
••»  The title piece is no different in its ambience, with shimmering organ and twanging guitar slowly filling up space in the mix, becoming more oppressive as it goes on.  It is a slow build with the instruments slowly layering in until reaching a full band sound in the latter half, the different layers erratically intersecting before coming together in a locked in folksy, country influenced piece of music.
••»  The sprawling "Chanting Out the Low Shadow" closes the album with a full on band and also results in a succinct primer on the Horseback sound, as elements from the entire catalog show up.  The lurching guitar progression eventually leads into Miller's demonic growl that is otherwise absent from Piedmont Apocrypha.  Calming down, the vocals shift to plaintive nasal delivery that is reminiscent of an Appalachian David Tibet singing hymns of similar esoteric imagery.  Meanwhile the piece continues this classically minimalistic structure, building layers that stretch out and expand dramatically over the cyclic base rhythm.  It eventually reaches full on rock, with soaring keyboards and rapid–fire drums in a truly epic climax, before folding back into a coda that sounds like the band playing into a broken radio.
••»  To me, the recent Horseback material has reminded me in some ways of REM's Fables of the Reconstruction, and I mean that as the highest compliment considering my love for that album.  While sonically distinct from one another, both have that same southern folk influence tinged with a hint of darkness.  REM's may have insinuated a sense of evil while Horseback lays it out bluntly, but I still get the same sense from both, but wrapped in the context of memorable, catchy music.  Compared to Miller's recent work the country influence is even more pronounced, and while I must admit to missing the straight ahead rock throb of Half Blood, Piedmont Apocrypha is a more complex work that reveals more of its mythos in due time.

Horseback — Piedmont Apocrypha (2014)



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