Oklahoma City five-piece, Horse Thief received a lot of buzz with their debut EP, Grow Deep, Grow Wild. One of their songs were even covered by the Flaming Lips! In the wake of this buzz they signed a high-profile contract with highly respected indie label, Bella Union. Some of this big buzz might have been due to the fact that Horse Thief sounded a lot like a cross between Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear. That’s pretty normal for a new band — wearing your influences on your sleeve often can get you far when no one knows who you are. It’s excusable for new bands, but really great bands should grow into a singular and unique style or they will be forgotten about. And with their debut full length, Fear in Bliss, Horse Thief has chosen a unique way to do just that. They have grown more universal, with a clean, crisp sound however, they have also gotten slightly more opaque by cutting down on a lot of the unnecessary drama that enveloped their debut EP.
This focus on craft and melody, super-tight arrangements, and a new found intricacy in their songwriting makes Horse Thief almost sound like a different band altogether. Much credit goes to super producer, Thom Monahan whose work with Vetiver and Pernice Brothers has sonically cleared a way for great melodies and catchy choruses to shine through. He has done the same things with Horse Thief’s new album, Fear in Bliss, making sure only the best aspects of the band cut through. The record also brings to mind sonically embellished folk-rock acts such as Band of Horses or Shearwater.
The opening track on Fear in Bliss (“I Don’t Mind”) begins with a beautiful 30-second crescendo of late-period-Cure style guitars leading pleasantly yet unexpectedly into a stilted white-boy-blues run. The song makes a few twists and turns before ultimately settling on catchy down home Americana. “Human Geographer” is more straight up rock, disassembling into a delicate baroque breakdown before transitioning back to form. “Devil”, the lead single, sounds like an old fashioned radio hit with its strummy acoustics, beautiful harmonies and melody that you will hum for days. “Already Dead” is a stripped down short number, just acoustic guitar and voice from front man Cameron Neal, while “Dead Drum” has a timeless melodic quality, with Neal showing off his baritone during the verses and returning to his confident tenor on the choruses.
Horse Thief’s Fear in Bliss is not a perfect album, it certainly breaks no new ground and occasionally is too polished — however — it is a great record in a classic style.
Words: Stephe Sykes