Atomic Rooster. Trojan Horse. Henry Cow. Er, Canned Goat?
I may just have made that last one up but farmyard-related band names appear surprisingly thin on the ground.
Bucking that trend (ahem…), please trot forward, in a genteel and decorous way, A Formal Horse.
The third EP from the Southampton based quartet is another exhilarating journey into fiddlyness, recorded and mixed by Rob Aubrey which gives it a mark of true quality. They’ve always been a highly interesting group having produced some superb pieces previously, but Made In Chelsea sees the stars aligned and is a confident step up overall.
The music, written by the guitar/bass/drums trio of instrumentalists, is well thought out, inventive and delivered with high-energy enthusiasm, guitarist Benjamin Short’s surrealistic lyrics sung by Hayley McDonnell with imperious charm. It’s a joyful explosion of the unexpected that succeeds in refraining from a shredding technique that would simply disappear up its own rear end.
The scurrying busyness of Chorale rouses the listener with a jolt, demanding attention before the intro to the exquisite Made In Chelsea (Apocalypse in 15/8), the music bringing King Crimson to mind rather than the nod to Genesis that the title might suggest. The scene set, Hayley’s first appearance sees her entrancing operatic tones soaring above the frenetic instrumentation, like an angel over a mass brawl.
A piece of cake on an ill-tempered Sunday
She: buys like
A decent Sheikh, I can’t take that away.”
Her voice is simply lovely with a beautiful clarity that can rise to the required heights with ease, here giving a performance that could have come from Michael Nyman’s Prospero’s Books. The juxtaposition of the intense instrumentation with the beguiling beauty of the voice is enthralling and A Formal Horse have really hit on something here.
A change of tone after the big-hitting double-punch of the first two tracks, The Dead Hand Talks In Braille is plaintive and thoughtful, and at less than two minutes a gorgeous and tranquil oasis of calm, guitar and voice allowing empty spaces to enter the previously dense soundscape.
Brains spilled in the cocktail lounge.
The mayor drowns
In champagne bubbles and hospitalised in a cocktail gown.”
The demonic KnobInANova returns us to a glowering Crimsoid universe, Frippian guitars niggling away like a physicist with Tourettes; this could be an outtake from the Starless and Bible Black era and is beautifully realised. I’m a complete sucker for a mighty bass sound and Russell Man succeeds in getting that “Don’t fuck with me” tone out of his instrument here. It’s a mighty beast of a thing that threatens to bludgeon you to death as soon as look at you, just the way I like it.
Finally, She Flew where, after a quiet intro, Hayley completely changes the outlook of the music with a magnificently stately performance.
With the flick of an eyelash turn young faces to flame
In dreams you repeat my name
I am and I am and too good, I flew again.
This town too tame.
This home too small.”
The chorus is strident and bewitching, the final vocal section coupled with frantic guitar scales the perfect way to end before sliding into a woozy fairground outro. There is plenty of variety within this EP which is spiky and epic all at the same time, and at less than 20-minutes it’s a real hit-and-run deal that doesn’t drag for a second, just making you want to hit ‘Play’ over and over.
These guys are overdue for an album, but maybe that’s the secret; 20 or so minutes released at irregular intervals to keep the momentum going is the best way forward. All of their releases to date are worth hearing but this one completely nails it for me and I’m going to have to take steps to catch one of their live shows soon.
01. Chorale (1:57)
02. Made In Chelsea (Apocalypse in 15/8) (4:16)
03. The Dead Hand Talks In Braille (1:45)
04. KnobInANova (4:19)
05. She Flew (5:20)
Total Time – 17:37
Hayley McDonnell – Vocals
Benjamin Short – Guitars
Russell Mann – Bass
Mike Stringfellow – Drums
Record Label: n/a
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st March 2017