It’s an odd choice to release an album at the tail end of any year after most publications have already published their best-of lists. Add a pandemic ton top of that and it seems crazy that any band would want to release a new album. For Cooper Trail and his project Desolation Horse, these factors would be overruled by the fact that he had been sitting on an impressive collection of songs for two years and it just felt right to get it out at this very moment in time. The album was also put on hold due to Cooper’s work as a session and touring drummer for fellow Pacific Northwest acts like An American Forrest, Bart Budwig and MAITA. But now the self-titled Desolation Horse record has finally arrived on American Standard Time (AST) Records, giving us one final bright spot to savor in a year that has been lousy to say the least.
Opening with the slacker-meets-dream-rock groover “Everyone Was Incredible,” the album starts on a high with deadpan vocals and airy guitar interspersed with soaring solos before the flowing title track hits, the latter dealing with the death of a loved one under tragic circumstances. Throughout the album, Cooper translates heavier themes like social anxiety, social awkwardness and that feeling of being ready to leave your hometown into songs that feel like cathartic releases. His lyrics come from the literary realm with autobiographical tidbits sprinkled throughout, and on the especially poignant “Heavy Rain” he taps into a sound and mood reminiscent of Phosphorescent complete with a plucked banjo. On “I Had In My Hand a Hand,” Cooper mixes jangly, punk-infused guitar with defiant vocals, while he returns to the theme of loss on the hushed and raw folk number “Crumarine Creek,” layering in a jagged fiddle, banjo, and lo-fi group harmonies that give the song a round-the-campfire vibe. You can hear similarities to dreamier indie rock groups like War on Drugs and Luna on the sprawling “Graceland T-shirt,” while “Superchamp” taps into a grunge sound as Cooper sings an ode to the life of being a traveling musician while backed by piano and crashing guitars. The eight-track album closes strong with “Little Freaky,” a meandering love song that brings to mind Wilco but with a small dose of soul thrown in to the song’s folk-rock sound.
Though Cooper Trail has spent much of his musical career playing a low key role, Desolation Horse is a long overdue step into the spotlight. The album is an impressive collection of songs that showcase both his depth as a songwriter as well as his eclectic and open-minded approach to music. It also touches on themes and emotions that resonate with many of us in these dark days while offering a glimmer of optimism. One can only hope that this album will not be soon forgotten and that we may even get to see Desolation Horse perform live in the next year.