by Brian Manley
I was wrestling with a kitchen at 2 AM, moving plastic mashers and wooden spoons from one drawer to another, hankering on to myself about being overwhelmed and some other thing; dribbling beer onto a black t-shirt already sputtered and stained from the second time I tried kratom and second time I coughed it up in dirt wads onto my chest, yelling yuck about it all. And I remembered Sophomore Lounge asked me to check out the new album White Horses from Thee Open Sex. I shoved up the volume (or pushed little phone buttons) and started rolling around in contact paper with headphones and an exacto knife.
Am I right that this is a follow-up to Splits in 2015? Has it been that long? Bloomington, Indiana’s Thee Open Sex: Where the shadows are stretched into clouded psych, canvased sheets of whispered muse stretched thin but strong with creeping sounds and tribal beats. Thee Open Sex have been experimenting with form and sound for a decade in their Northern lab, and their forays can be lo-fi jaunts into the dark and unpredictable, only to have a slice of light and aggression come like the jeer of a possum’s teeth on the back deck at midnight. The music is mischievous, surprising, and unafraid of exploration.
I feel like White Horses might be the possum this band has been searching to ride for ten years; or maybe the possum we were meant to ride with them (enough with the possum). The group has delivered a larger piece, a composition, each side connected and able to circle into the other. Side one hoists you up, shoe in cupped palms, onto the beginning slope of a journey that climbs and climbs, almost ethereal and calming, the instrumentation swirling and comforting. The theme is brandished and shifted, but remains constant, and builds into beautiful hypnotic strides. By the end of the first side, you’ve reached the top of the hill and are proud.
On Side Two, the peak is steeper.
Again the steady climb and the encouragingly calm march, although the tension is a little higher. I thought I could hear that distorted guitar looming slightly out of range, but by seven and half minutes in it snakes through and makes itself known. And that bass line! And those drums! Unfaltering and tireless as anchors throughout this hike. The side builds from there into a louder and more animated power as the climb only becomes more intense, and then it lets you breathe, sink, and float cool, all weight against a steady brace with a breeze.
White Horses is quite an achievement. Thee Open Sex managed to create a perfectly controlled caravan that is framed in a repetitive rhythm section that gets chased by a This Heat-ish skeleton. The album is hard to put away once it’s started.
Sophomore Lounge has been laying low for a bit this year it seems. I don’t blame them; it’s been nothing but brackish humidity and American dictators this summer. But White Horses seems to mark the first of what seems at least a trio of excellent releases in line for the Louisville label that frame the opening of a Fall that might feel like a real interesting, weird, beautiful, colorful and mesmerizing photograph.