Veteran singer, songwriter and guitarist Adam Franklin is no stranger to composing emotionally compelling and evocative music. Since 2007, Franklin has released four full-length albums, two with a crew of supporting musicians under the moniker Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody. The group’s newest release, Black Horses, is a true full-length effort that develops a single musical motif throughout while attempting to elicit emotion with a variety of musical instruments, effects, and recurring riffs. Though at times the album feels slightly restricted by its sound, Black Horses represents an artistic and original approach to an alternative rock record that grows and reveals depth through multiple listens.
Black Horses opens with “Asha,” a bright and upbeat rock-and-roll track tinged with Eastern flavor that immediately draws the listener in. Though Franklin’s voice is clearly not the centerpiece of the song, melodious lyrics like, “I’d walk a million miles just to see you smile” evoke feelings of hope and happiness. As the album progresses, the tone quickly changes and melodies start to recur using different instruments. Violins and futuristic keyboard riffs hijack the listener’s emotions and take them wherever Franklin wants them to go. Early in the album, “I Used to Live for Music” uses a dark, unsettling riff and a slowing pace to induce feelings of uncertainty and dejection. The riff featured in this track reappears on songs throughout the remainder of the album, each time eliciting a slightly different reaction by the listener. Along this rollercoaster ride of emotions, each song transitions perfectly into the next, and by the end of the album a sense of fulfillment and completion is all that remains, almost like watching a movie from beginning to end.
Though Franklin and his band mates masterfully weave a single thread through Black Horses to tie the album together, this musical motif also could be considered the album’s greatest weakness. At times, the album seems almost hindered by the repetition, and several of the later tracks risk losing the listener’s interest. In particular, “Coda Code” and “I Used to Live for a Thousand Years” recycle the lyrics and most memorable riff from “I Used to Live for Music.” While these songs serve as great examples of Franklin’s ability to tie Black Horses together and evoke numerous emotions using a single altered melody, they could also be seen by some as limiting, unoriginal and even boring.
Regardless of their significance to the theme and purpose of Black Horses, most of these songs are bolstered before and after by musically rich tracks that shine throughout multiple listens. Aside from “Bootcat Leah” and “Asha,” the album’s first and second singles, respectively, “Passenger Train, Warped by the Rain” stands as one of Black Horses’ strongest tracks. The song perfectly reflects the full-bodied sound of the album as well as its slightly retro feel with superb instrumental layering, gripping guitar riffs, and continuously crashing drums. All the while, Franklin’s smooth voice blends flawlessly into the instrumental track to further enrich the song. “When I Love You (I Love You All the While)” ages gracefully throughout several spins, adopting a serious tone behind a folksy rock guitar melody and catchy organ fills. Finally, “Long Way Home” closes Black Horses with a completely different sound that leaves the listener with a renewed sense of optimism through a single, beautiful melody repeated from start to finish.
With Black Horses, Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody succeed at creating an album of depth that can be enjoyed repeatedly from start to finish. Though several songs prove difficult to digest at first, they are buoyed by the album’s many strong tracks and a captivating theme that is fully developed and tied together over the course of 37-minutes. The evolution of this seasoned musician and his supporting group will undoubtedly continue to intrigue as they bring Black Horses on the road in the near future.