The bright young things in England’s The Horrors burst out of the crypt in 2006, armed with a capeful of garage bleakness that was like the Cramps-via-the-Mighty-Caesars, unfeasibly fright-wigged hair and confrontational performance antics that saw a New York CMJ show end with a rumble. They gained a pretty rabid fan base on the basis of early singles like “Death in the Chapel” and “Sheena Is a Parasite,” constant live work, a Chris Cunningham-directed video, and a serious commitment to their haphazard art. Their first album, Strange House, had some neato tunes, but the sound wasn’t up to the yowling immediacy of live recordings and demos that had surfaced earlier. The tunes were pretty sharp, though. After all the promotional work for Strange House ended, they disappeared for a while. And more importantly, evolved. Ain’t that something?
One forgets, as The Horrors have so many timeless reference points and influences, how young they really are. And as they get older and take in more art and more exotic music, the blueprints are going to change. But, man, I expected more conservative incremental change, not the huuuuuuge stylistic leap that Primary Colours is. This album is a statement of intent, of change or die, of commitment to creativity. I’m just saying that it’s a little impressive when a band goes from championing Nuggets-as-goth to sounding like a gleaming, electric mainline towards the metronome heart of Can, Harmonia, and Neu. Two-minute tracks stretch out mantrically into nearly seven-minute kraut-drone masterpieces. Primary Colours effortlessly merges the majesty of early Ride and Loveless (My Bloody Valentine) with Can’s unerring straight line and the Birthday Party’s pathos.
“Mirror’s Image” starts off with cloudy synth ambiance parting suddenly to reveal a krautrock straightline bass-drums groove punctured by molten My Bloody Valentine-esques that warp and bend like a crowbar in a forge and a ping-ping synth which provides a cool purple vapor trail for Faris’ deep throaty growl and yelp. And just like that, the rules of their game are changed. “Three Decades” is shoegaze overcome by shuddering fits of paranoia — but even that can’t stop the inexorable, clockwork forward motion of these new songs. Faris’ voice is the spanner in the works, the sweat and spit that rusts the gleaming chassis of this post-punk/ krautrock cybernetics. It’s really the only remaining link to their old sound, and even that has changed, becoming more of a cavernous hum and mantric swoon, though his Frankenstein roar does occasionally surface.
Tracks like “New Ice Age” depart from the starheart psychedelia and thrash about in an unrepentantly nasty manner, geetars grinding and slashing, vocals leering, but there’s this fragility at the core of it all, another element missing from the last album. “I Only Think of You” is torchsong genius; a Velvet Underground drum tattoo ushers in slow swells of backwards guitar wooziness and Faris, exhausted and resigned, bids a self-destructive lover goodbye, kicking himself for not being able to do more, kicking himself for still being in love. And then it turns all stately like Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” as the backwards guitar lines coalesce like a mutant string section and the drums beat a lonely almost gallop towards the nearest door. Gotta get out. Gotta get out.
Closer and video “Sea Within A Sea,” starts off with Neu-esque autobahn propulsion drums and a synth vamp that sounds like a distant echo from the beginning of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” while the vocals echo in and out, impossibly far off, but sounding choirboy pretty and this tiny Middle-Eastern guitar doodle and a steady bass heartbeat. It’s a gentle pulse, and then this steamworks synth blip emerges and jumps the whole thing into machine-like anti-funk. We like.
Seeing them live made the aesthetic transition seem a lot less jarring as they tore into the red-meat heart of the songs and stomped around in the red spray with a wild, childlike abandon that would match erstwhile idols like the Sonics or the Count Five. And that crazy effects board? And those ancient keyboards? Zounds! Skinny, black-clad boys, ill-tempered but wide-eyed, weaving webs of pure phase sound.
The Horrors: thehorrors.co.uk