Curator’s notes: Horse Lords and Lens

Tone Madison presents this experimental bill on May 10 at Williamson Magnetic.

Tone Madison presents this experimental bill on May 10 at Williamson Magnetic.

Horse Lords. Photo by Theo Anthony.

Horse Lords. Photo by Theo Anthony.

Rarely does a band combine a disparate jumble of influences with an almost brutal sense of focus and control, but Horse Lords have done that on their third album, the new Interventions. The Baltimore outfit will headline our next Tone Madison-curated show, on Tuesday, May 10 at Williamson Magnetic Recording Company, with an opening set from Madison’s Lens.

Horse Lords are a four-piece: Sam Haberman on drums, Owen Gardner on guitar, Max Eilbacher on bass and electronics, and Andrew Bernstein on saxophone and percussion. Their reference points range from the spaced-out krautrock of Neu! to the Malian blues of Ali Farke Touré to the minimalist experimentation of La Monte Young, but on Interventions their eclecticism turns lean and unsentimental. Even the titles of two standout tracks, “Bending To The Lash” and “Toward The Omega Point,” evoke a ritualistic discipline befitting their taut, spiraling rhythms.

There are looser moments in the band’s output, especially on the three “mixtapes” they’ve put out in addition to their three proper albums. On the first mixtape, from 2012, you can hear abrasive electronic music, frizzy post-punk, polyrhythmic drum passages, and swampy jazz-funk spilling over each other in an episodic wash. The back half of their third mixtape, from 2014, begins in rich drones and builds up into an ecstatic whirl that, in a strange way, makes me think of a Pharoah Sanders record.

Interventions doesn’t dispense with that wide-ranging spirit: “Encounters I/Transfinite Flow” begins with a mangled field recording, “Intervention I” is a synth-based piece that balances flickering melodies with woozy dissonance, and “Intervention III” is a stately, roaring track built mostly around solo guitar. The difference here is that most of the ideas are kept concise, or, as on the nine-minute “Toward The Omega Point,” pared down into very precise shards of a furious post-punk mosaic.

Lens is the solo project of Madison’s Dan Woodman, who also plays in the long-running if willfully obscure drone outfit Drunjus. While his live sets and recordings as Lens share some of that drone and noise DNA, they also yield up unexpected moments of structure—a set he recorded back in January begins with sub-bass throbs and eerie, chattering tape loops, but about halfway through there’s suddenly a beat, a whole additional ring of sound that reshapes the initial abstraction. Woodman draws a lot of influence from dub here, but admittedly contorts it into something that you might not think of as such. And if there’s a common thread between the two acts on this bill we’re presenting, it’s sculpting all manner of worldly inspiration into forms that are unsettling—and sometimes damn near unrecognizable. I look forward to seeing you folks there.

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