posted on 7/2012 By:
Jenks Miller’s Horseback is a project distinct to our times. That’s not to say the North Carolina-based one-man unit is a definitive voice in 21st century underground music, or even a particularly excellent one, but it is one that is almost impossible to imagine existing at any other place or time than here and now. Through Horseback, Miller embraces the artistic freedoms provided by modern recording technology and a de-monetized cultural climate to create albums within a secure artistic bubble. He’s a self-sufficient artist that’s accepted the commercial irrelevance of underground music (and increasingly, music in general) and placed audience gratification in subservience to artistic experimentation. And, through there have been artists embracing that dynamic for as long as commerce and art have been bumping up against each other, the affordability of music production allows Miller and others like him to do so far more prolifically.
Half Blood is the latest in the line of albums that Miller seems to have made, primarily, for himself. Audiences are welcome to dip into his ever flowing stream of consciousness, of course, as long as they keep in mind that the waters aren’t always that inviting.
Miller isn’t exactly at odds with listeners on Half Blood, so much as he seems ambivalent about their participation in the cultural exchange. In fact, three of Half Blood’s first four tracks are really pleasurable listens. Recalling the Invisible Mountain’s reliance on recursive basslines and gradually modulating guitar figures to create a creeping sense of momentum, “Mithras,” “Ahriman” and “Arjuna” each evoke images of lonesome travels across the American West. Half Blood’s closest antecedent is probably Neurosis, especially considering that band’s ability to conjure American folk and roots rock without ever directly accessing it. However, whereas Neurosis possesses an almost pathologic obsession with crescendo and catharsis, Horseback seems dead set on denying the listener any sort of dramatic release. Half Blood’s songs end when they get where they are going, often before giving the listener a sense that they’ve even hit the trail.
This isn’t an entirely a bad thing. Miller escapes from the rote construct / destroy dynamic, and in its place creates songs with an internal drama that is unpacked with repeated, attentive listens. What the subtle swells of “Ahriman” lack in sonic bombast, they make up for with their confidant economy.
But Miller’s confidence can alienate. Half Blood’s closing triptych ("Hallucigenia I, II and III") is marked by a distinct stylistic break from the album’s first half, with entrancing grooviness making way for Kraut-y esoteria. These sounds aren’t presented for the listeners’ pleasure, but rather as a test of their endurance. Miller, who lists the seminal noise project Skullflower as primary influence, knows exactly what he’s doing here. And, while there’s a certainly masochistic thrill to be derived from decoding the album’s indulgent latter half, I can’t help but feel that Miller is hanging himself with the ample rope his creative freedom provides him.
Horseback is totally liberated to be an experimental noise project, but that doesn’t mean that Miller is anything more than a competent experimental noise artist. That it was makes Horseback a uniquely current project. Miller can afford to follow his muse wherever he wants because the record button can always be on. In that respect, the latter half of Half Blood feels bereft of urgency or creative risk. These are merely some sounds that Miller captured in his ceaseless quest for sound. Take them or leave them.
Here's how this all unpacks for me: I really think Horseback is strong project. The economical grooves and alkali atmosphere particularly resonate with me, as I've spent a lot of time driving around the American West and feeling genuinely connected to the mystique of the land. But, because Miller is so prolific and so thoroughly divorced from commercial expectations, he sometimes strays into musical territory that is, to my ears, disagreeable and boring. But that qualitative assessment feels almost divorced from the purpose of listening to a project like Horseback -- where half the pleasure is being privileged to the unfolding of Miller's artistic development. Half Blood is less of a statement than it is a bend in Miller's breadcrumb trail.
With that in mind, I advise the following: Get into this album. It's worth it. But, keep in mind, it's not about you.
Register to post comments.