It only takes a few seconds for Dark Horses to establish the tone of their debut album. Black Music begins with swirling directionless noise, creating a desolate landscape. Lisa Elle’s distant vocals then join the mix, her pained voice combining with the flowing ambiance to create an uneasy feeling like waiting for expected bad news. The track’s intensity reaches its peak as a deep, fuzzed bassline joins the mix, Harry Bohay-Nowel’s strings sounding as though slathered in mud. “The Rose” then spends the next four minutes building toward a crescendo. The fact that the crescendo never happens leaves all the built-up tension unresolved and it lingers throughout the remainder of the LP.
Though not a concept album, Black Music is best appreciated as one large complete work, rather than a collection of stand-alone songs. The music doesn’t hook you or do anything to stand above the mix. Instead, an ominous discordance encompassing the album builds and subsides throughout, but without ever completely disappearing.
That’s not to say there aren’t any stand-out tracks. “Boxing Day” features idiosyncratic synths and an infectious dancehall bass groove that contrasts the song’s detached subject matter. The droning palm-muted guitar of “No Dice” combined with Elle’s half-spoken vocals makes it the eeriest and darkest of Black Music.
Thematically, Elle discusses loss and isolation with a distant numbness, willing to talk about what happened but unwilling to relive the moment. “I cannot ignore you, but I’m ready for it,” Elle sings on the acidic “Count Me In,” featuring Kasabian’s Thomas Meighan.
Brighton, UK’s Dark Horses consists of seven band members – six musicians and photographer Ali Tollervey. Appropriately, Black Music is a visual album, with the music not telling a story so much as capturing broad images subject to the observer’s interpretation. It’s more about mood than plot, more about tension than resolution. It’s Andy Bang’s malevolent trudging guitar, Elle’s echoing howls, and an overall foreboding aura. Black Music is a sound-scape of a bleak, sinister environment, where Elle and company struggle through the aftermath of some catastrophic event that is never discussed but is glimpsed in the shadows and hinted at between each note.