Day 178 – #174. HORSE the Band – Desperate Living

HORSE the Band - Desperate Living Album Review

PREVIOUSLY ON ONE RECORD PER DAY: my spirited, if unsolicited, defense of HORSE THE BAND, the “gratest (sic) unsuccessful band ever”(1) –

It drives me crazy that a music community starved for originality has overlooked the group in a most ridiculous “beggars becoming choosers who are also purported learned Internet scholars and theists and Bokonists” situation.

Maybe I’m just angry that HORSE aren’t as popular as they should be, and will be better remembered for the hyperbolic genre-pigeonholing absurdity/monstrosity that is “NINTENDOCORE” or the breakdown on “Cutsman” or the recurring inside “Kangarooster” joke than they will be for the gem that is A Natural Death.

I don’t know how to spell it out any better than that. Watch EARTH Tour and have your whole worldview crumpled in 10 hours.

I feel the need to reference myself if only for my persistent dismay over the lack of support for HORSE. I wrote that, in spite of being misunderstood (or perhaps using this to their advantage), for fans of abrasive or loud music, there is much to be found in HORSE.

And because it’s their most recent release, if it is to serve as the band’s swan song, Desperate Living is the culmination of a decade of relative cult stardom, as evidenced by an ambitious, 40+ country tour, a 10-hour film, and a number of fascinating albums. They also grew a pair and played Warped, so… good on them, I guess.

This album is the musical equivalent of some of the most harrowing fever dreams that rip you from the empty caress of restless sleep, jolting you back into a reality marred by perilous student loan and credit card debt. It’s the antithesis of slam poetry.

The most ironic thing is that, when HORSE still toured on a regular basis (and not just summer tours in flyborn lands like Russia), the material being yelled at kids from the stage is more befitting of a low-to-mid level author at his book reading. Sure, there might be a smattering of people who show up in Iowa, but in LA or NY, they’d pack out the B+N.

If youth is wasted on the young, so too are the words of Nathan Winneke, and the noise created by Erik Engstrom (Lord Gold), David Isen (His Purple Majesty), and the late Dash Arkenstone, and whatever drummer they managed to corral before their eventual demise.

Because really- how could a teenager in the bible belt understand sage lyrics like: I AM THE SKY / DON’T ASK WHY / I FEEL IT AS I BREATHE DEEP INSIDE (“Cloudwalker”).

Wrong again.


The mantra of HORSE, the very crux of this band, is summarized in a single sentence on their eponymous “HORSE the Song.”(2) Like much of this album, these lines are the gravestone message, the death wheeze, the iPad “Happy arbor day” inscription: part battle cry, mating call, and frenzied plea for help:

Living at the top! / Living at the top!

Truly the words of a poet.

Elsewhere on Desperate Living, the title track features guest drums from Jon Karel (The Number Twelve Looks Like You, The Sawtooth Grin), giving the song an extra element of technicality. The man simply kicks and hits things well.

With “Science Police,” HORSE has written perhaps the first (only?) song ever written about the persecution of the study of human evolution by the Intelligent Design crew – we’ll call them The ID Crowd. It’s a strange and galloping track for some 3 minutes, and then devolves into a delicate post-rock experiment. Good.

The single on this album, if you can even call it that, is called “Shapeshift.” To me, the title is an implied metaphor about the amorphous nature of the band’s music: drawing on the Nine Inch Nails-esque “LOUD soft LOUD” approach, but also in the fact that it can be incredibly abrasive but still thoughtful. One minute, the band is exploring the unbearable nature of being, and the next, conjuring up the horrifying juxtaposition of a kangaroo and a rooster.

Lord Gold Wand of Unyielding” features the return of LORD GOLD and HIS PURPLE MAJESTY to vocals. You may remember Lord Gold from his constant toothy grin and

The showstopper of the whole album: “Big Business,” which is one of the most complete HORSE songs since “HORSE the Song” 6 tracks earlier, and features the RETURN OF ED EDGE ON TRIANGLE. Between Edge’s triangle cameo and his spotlight in the breakdown halfway through the song, which also recalls an incident In Mexico fucking City, the behind the scenes HORSE tourmate (HORSEmate) gets his 15 minutes. Also on the track, no trend is safe: Winneke calls out Christians, Buddhists, paramedics, vegans, straight edgers, and even pimps. It’s the most well-rounded HORSE track you’ll ever put in your ears this side of their title tune.

Desperate Living closes in a fashion that only they could pull off: first with Rape Escape,” which, and I kid you not, speaks to the terrifying reality of sexual assault. The track commences with classical pianist Valentina Lisitsa, apparently regarded by many as one of the most talented musicians in the entire world, playing a 2-minute fragment of the: “cadenza of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, the emotional climax and most technically demanding section of one of the most difficult pieces ever written for piano.”(3)

How this band managed to score such an artist, I’ll never understand. Such is the legacy of HORSE. Misunderstood and underrated genius.

Arrive” closes Desperate Living, and it stands in stark contrast to how bleak the rest of the record is. At surface level, perhaps it doesn’t fit. But after careful consideration, if the band never releases any more material, it’s the finishing touch on a tremendous discography.

I often wonder if the members of HORSE are all pranking us. As if they’re using their band and music as a front to travel the world, rather than to bring art or a message to peoples across the globe.

If so, it’s a genius plot. I don’t know that I buy into this, if only for the fact that their work is genuine. If it is a prank and none of this – the band’s image, the music, all of it – is sincere, that it’s all a farce, well… the joke’s on us.

One way or another, the band has produced some damn fine loud music.

From their magnum opus, this is HORSE the Band’s “Big Business” –

Standout tracks: “HORSE the Song,” “Shapeshift” and “Big Business”
Weakest track: “Arrive”

RIYL: Existentialism, that Eric Wareheim “mindblown” GIF (it’s JIF like the peanut butter).


  1. Source: A tour manifesto by Lord Gold < > Accessed 27 June 2013.
  2. HORSE the motherfucking Band, motherfuckers. Not strictly something that needs sourced. Can’t fault the lyrics, man.
  3. Source: Lambgoat. Not ashamed of it. < > Accessed 27 June 2013.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Day 246 – #175. HORSE the Band – The Mechanical Hand « One Record Per Day

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