by Theodore Rowe
Here’s your playlist for the week. Lily and Horn Horse, respectively Lily Konigsberg of Palberta and Matt Norman, gather 28 tracks for Lily on Horn Horse that, according to the Bandcamp description, “is more a snapshot of a creative time and place than concept-album”. Yet, we’re going down the rabbit-hole in something that resembles a Youtube spiral. Each track naturally bleeds to the next as if “Autoplay” is on all night. Of course, this is us just falling down the tubes that Horn Horse comes back to over and over again. First we’re “Dancing In The Tubes” in what sounds like a pre-packaged MIDI beat from a Yamaha keyboard. Its cheesiness recalls Powerpoint transition sounds, but it lovingly sets up the next sequence of Horn Horse’s tracks, “What’s In The Dirt,” “Juice V. Milk ft. Lily,” “Brother and Grandma Make Waves on the Beach,” and “Year Book,” which skirt from Casio synths stolen from the Japanese to quick jazz sketches that color the album.
Next we get “PVC Pipes ft. Lily” which really reveals Horn Horse’s hand. Here we’re looking at “planes flying in the shitty sky” as Horn Horse, disaffected from his labor, saws purposefully away on a PVC pipe. The sawtooth synth plugging away as the low-end renders a grey concrete non-space while “the daydreams [that] come / through the PVC pipes” can only be similar to the pop-up ad vocal samplings from Lily. Horn Horse’s songs elicit tension between the drab, soulless environments of contemporary urban sprawl and a hope once found in them. We get tracks like “Nostalgic Anxiety” hinting at this tension or “Looking at my School Through a B757” which draws up any depressing American suburb driven by weapons manufacturing. Abandoned ritualism underlies “Flag Day” in what sounds like a barely remembered parade-day melody, while freer jazz excursions like “Bad Car Night” and “Party in the Rainbow Tunnel by the GGB ft. Lily” scarily crashes together to mimic an interstate pileup.
Lily’s songs, like her work in Palberta, temporarily make use of an adapted genre before moving on to the next one. Whereas Palberta guts each track down quickly, here Lily inhabits the tracks with a proudly worn and comfortable mask. Lily’s fleshed-out songs sit nicely between Horn Horse’s freak-outs, yet a similar pessimism can’t be shaken. A song like “Today ft. Horn Horse” may sound like its cut from one of Arthur Russell’s tapes, but the fact that Lily “can’t stop today / morning comes again” is more nihilistically downtrodden than anything Russell recorded. Likewise, “I Only Lose Because I’m Lame” is knowingly bleak with Lily haunting the piano like a melancholic Kate Bush before uttering a sighed “oh, so sad.” The performativity of Lily’s breaking voice is not lost, nor does it make the track frivolous. Instead, it becomes a sadness to put on whether we’re legitimately feeling low or faking it. The house-tinged “She Doesn’t Have a Good Brain” is maniacally catchy for its almost two-minute length and recalls Saint Etienne at their poppiest best.
Dividing up Horn Horse and Lily is a bit unfair, though. Even the songs the other isn’t guesting on sound like they were written for at least a show and a laugh from their partner. The end result is a romp through the tubes in a mimicry of how we listen while questioning what we are listening for. Horn Horse at one point sings “Your mind is the landscape / Of the internet,” and I am in no way going to disagree.