Having already toured with some of the daddies of psych-kissed folk-rock, Midlake and Blitzen Trapper, Horse Thief are among good company. They even share management, love and cover versions with their Oklahoma state-mates, The Flaming Lips.
On listening to the band’s debut LP, ‘Fear In Bliss’, it’s clear to hear why they have received so much support to date. This young group’s first record is packed with punchy riffs and sunshine melodies, lovely harmonies and production that could sit alongside some Beach Boys classics.
Star of the show is frontman Cameron Neal, aka Mr Horse Thief. He merges geek chic with everything that is cool about today’s alt-indie-folk-psych-rock, merging the likes of Grizzly Bear or Beach House with the rougher sound of Dr Dog or the more mature psych of the Eric Pulido-fronted Midlake. His voice has a charm and innocence to it, and also a gravelly texture, coming over like a young and excitable John Lennon.
Neal’s musical vision is realised with his excellent band, altered since he began this project, members of which set aside day jobs as farm hands and music teachers to take on guitar, bass, keys and percussion. They give these songs room to breathe, letting subtle emotion or snippets of poppy psychedelia capture your aural attention and bring something new every time you hear it.
Take the brilliant ‘Devil’ (video below), a sweet pop song with a dark edge, lifted above its contemporaries with a West Coast feel and, along with the chorus of the equally great ‘Holding On’, pockets of melody that head off in unexpected directions. It’s a joy to be listening to a simple pop-folk song, only to be hit with a riff or bridge that takes you by surprise.
Guitar is often euphoric or dreamy, sometimes melancholy, yet somehow always uplifting, while the percussion is never dull, cutting through space with thoughtful fills to ensure you never drift far. There’s a definite Americana foundation too – a product of their original hometown of Denton, Texas – that brings such warmth. It’s a positivity that runs throughout, even during songs born out of Neal’s darker moments.
‘Fear In Bliss’ is as catchy as a cold. From the stripped-down numbers like ‘Already Dead’, with its almost-anthemic chorus accompanied by just guitar and harmonies, to the softly swaying ‘Little Dust’, it’s just irresistible and should proudly sit alongside the successes of their Bella Union labelmates.
Words: Gemma Hampson
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Listen to ‘Fear In Bliss’ in full via Deezer, below…