Bell Horses is a collaborative project combining the varied talents of Xian Hawkins, of Sybarite and Silver Apples, and Jenny Owens Young into a quasi-orchestrated, beatific ride that touches down for a few shining moments in the halcyon days of 4AD Records, along with a few other mythical places.
They are joined on several songs by drummer Michael Lerner, from The Antlers, and violinist/violist Eve Boltax. Hawkins has received lots of good press for his work in Sybarite, recorded for numerous labels (4AD, Temporary Residence, Ghostly International). Some of that stuff leaves off where this record begins, although here they subsume an even greater amount of raw material than might be expected at first blush. Hawkins’ illusive post-electronica provides an appropriate backdrop for the sometimes psychedelic, sometimes languid musings they came up with for this album, which they released on their own label. It’s difficult not to cite His Name Is Alive, Portishead or Cocteau Twins as certain parts float by, and this record can hold it’s head high alongside those giants, but after those particular passages fade away it occurs to me that this is a form of intellectual laziness.
Still, Hawkins’ songs bring together an ambience along with a kind of abstract post-rock sound in such a way that it enables them to jump back and forth between the two worlds with relative ease. The first song, “Still Life,” lends itself nicely to Jenny’s powerful and impressive dynamic vocal breaks, and it establishes a fairly high standard, although it becomes a little too beat-driven, and predictable, when they drop hi-hat triplets (or quadruplets) that sound way too programmed in the midst of everything else that’s happening around them. “Small Hours” displays a cinematic film score quality, and also has a tune inside of its overcoat. “Headmess” drops acid and gets trippy like a Cocteau Twins-lite project (there you go), and “Billowing” drops acid and gets trippy with The Sea & Cake. They drift off-course a little on the last couple songs, but six winners out of eight entries ain’t too bad, especially these days.