I’ve been looking forward to Horse Girl Energy since I wrote a premiere for New Primals’ latest single, “Soft Bullet”, not too long ago. As an avid fan of The Dillinger Escape Plan, and having only learned to appreciate them after their disbandment, I’ve always subconsciously got my eyes peeled for a band that can match them in diversity of musical ideas, attitude, dissonance, lyrical content and, of course, live performance. There are other bands I’ve found that are similar, but most of them lack either the integral attitude of Dillinger, or their songwriting is nowhere near as refined.
And then I heard “Soft Bullet”, and I felt hope blossom in my chest. Here are New Primals, a young three-piece with energy coming out their ears, with weird, dissonant riffs that are still catchy enough to get a groove on, with song structures that are surprising, with strange, but intriguing lyrics – and they don’t sound like they’re trying to be Dillinger. They sound like they’re just being themselves, and happen to tick all my reasons-why-I-love-Dillinger boxes. I was stoked, and couldn’t wait to hear the whole album.
Horse Girl Energy opens with “Blood & Water”, a mysterious song filled with intriguing tones and disconcerting noises. There’s some clever writing on this track, smooth yet unexpected transitions from mysterious arpeggiations to grating high-register tritone chords and a very lopsided, but groovy riff. The guitars have the right amount of crunch, and the bass tone, when it kicks in, is thick as all hell. The vocalist goes for it in every way, shape, and form, and I adore how the track ends, too – with another odd guitar riff that breaks up with increasing fuzz, and an eerie, juddering vocal. “A Beast With Two Backs”, which follows “Blood & Water”, is a nice contrast, groovier but also somehow heavier. A deliciously consistent bassline backs a largely dissonant guitar part and percussive vocals, but the chorus is surprisingly pleasant. This track grew on me hugely, and I’m still not sure why – I just really dig the different sections, the way all the elements work together. It gets me groovin’ like nobody’s business, but has enough menace and weirdness to appease my desire for dissonance.
There’s a lot of good stuff early on in Horse Girl Energy, but I think the last four tracks are where it’s really at. The yapping guitars and strained vocal delivery of “Modern Lover” juxtaposed with its almost romantic lyrical content, the absolutely kickass groovy-noisy-dancy goodness that is “Soft Bullet”, the brief, but excellent “Break/Fall/Rot”, and finally the uncomfortably moreish “Tightrope” – it doesn’t get much better than that. Specifically “Soft Bullet”, even though I’ve heard it so much by now, still tickles my fancy. There’s something almost joyful in behind all the dissonance and the yelling, the kind of thing you don’t hear, but rather just feel.
Somehow, though, Horse Girl Energy stagnated in my mind – I like it, those last four songs in particular, but it’s missing something. I can’t put my finger on it. When I try to break it down objectively, there are very few things that I’m not 100% convinced by on this album, and they’re minor. I’m not necessarily sure the flow of it is quite there for my taste; “Horse Girl Energy” seems to be in an odd spot, and I would’ve loved a slow, gloomy track towards the end, but that’s personal preference. I do find that the use of tritones in the guitar gets slightly samey when listening to the album all the way through, as does the bass tone, which occasionally loses clarity from the sheer amount of fuzz on it. And that’s a real shame, because the bass playing on this album is awesome.
All of these things are tiny, though, compared to how great this album is as a whole, which is why I’m struggling to understand why I’m not in love with it. Perhaps I just expected too much, or expected something different to what I got. There’s nothing ‘bad’ about Horse Girl Energy. All the tracks are different, the vocals are awesome, there’s plenty of dissonance balanced by just the right amount of catchiness, and it’s produced well. I still feel kind of lukewarm about it, though – it’s lacking somehow. I hope it’ll grow on me, because New Primals have released something really cool, I very much want to love it.