Stable Records, 2011
REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/03/2011
Calling an album “cuddly And warm” doesn’t evoke the same mystery and edginess as calling it, say, Beasts. Besides Beasts, hand-over-fist, makes for such a supercool title. But antithetical to its name, this disc is, in fact, a cozy album.
The Chocolate Horse (a supercool band name at that) isn’t a conventionally “cozy” band. The band’s roots are firmly clasped to the dirt of folk music. But their music isn’t the simple folksy “wear my heart on sleeve” lyrically focused folk, nor is it the flatteringly pastoral and ornately orchestral type of folk. The Chocolate Horse sometimes performs live as a one-piece band, which is not hard to imagine at all, since their songs, even in their fully-realized forms, still tightly cling on to the simplicity of their germ.
But The Chocolate Horse also sometimes plays live as a complete band, and thank goodness that’s what they do – performing as a six-piece – on Beasts. Incorporating instruments such as keyboards, vibraphone, saw and bone, and flute in an all-inclusive musical lineup, the band creates a sophisticated indie folk sound that couldn’t be far from either indie rock or folk: prime examples, “Escape All Responsibility” and “Characters Of Egypt.” Little hints of keyboards provide fleeting but strong impressions on songs dominated by the acoustic guitar, the piano, and the flute, and other whimsical instruments, creating a complicated and titillating world beneath the plain exterior.
Although The Chocolate Horse’s music is comforting, it is not too accessible in the pop music sense. One of the main reasons is band frontman and founder Jason Snells, whose vocals are dry and slightly boorish, albeit in a good way. His tad indifferent singing might add a know-nothing rustic accent, but does very little to pep up the poppiest of cuts – like the buoyant “All About You” – and elevate it to instant adorability. For the occasional rock numbers (like “Fools Gold” and “Found Another Way”) that have the laidback stoner feel of bands like Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr., Snells’s detached vocals fit too perfectly.
Beasts is rife with complex undercurrents, even though on the surface it is a raw folk record. It is in fact an artsy rock album in the guise of a simple acoustic one. The beauty of Beasts is how The Chocolate Horse lets the creature in it exist at its most virile, while at the same time taming it to absolute perfection.