Estonian band Holy Motors have announced a second slice of delicious Americana in the form of their second album, Horse, on Wharf Cat Records.
Though their music has often been tied to the traditions of Americana and America roots music, Holy Motors were formed in Tallinn, Estonia in 2013, when founding member Lauri Ruas (songwriter and one of the band’s three guitarists) recruited Eliann Tulve, who was just 16 at the time, to join the band as songwriter and lead vocalist.
With Tulve’s gorgeously foreboding vocals serving as a ballast for the guitar section’s shimmering sound, the band quickly made a name for themselves during their first tour of the US in 2018.
That same year marked the release of their critically acclaimed debut LP, Slow Sundown, on New York City’s equally enigmatic Wharf Cat Records, an album that generated praise and airplay not just in the band’s native Estonia (where it won Tallinn’s Music Week award and a nomination for Debut Album of the Year by the Estoniain Music Awards), but also via a battery of publications west of the Baltic, including Stereogum (Album of the Week), Bandcamp (Album of the Day), and the UK’s DIY Mag (Neu Pick).
But rather than being blunted and worn down by the tumultuous forces of success, Holy Motors’ incongruence has instead grown all the more prevalent and endearing.
They remain musicians from an ex-Soviet country producing music that has been described as “cowboy dream-pop with a dark side” (Interview Magazine), “shoegaze that sounds like the old West” (The Fader), and like “a twang-filled soundtrack to… cowboy melancholy” (Beat).
The resulting mystique is an inalienable part of the band’s DNA, stemming from the shared infatuation with the American West that the members developed waiting out Estonia’s long, grim winters with the warm company of American western films (Badlands and Paris, Texas amongst their favourites) and their instruments.
What began as an innocent fascination evolved into a sincere embodiment of that dreamy, melancholy cowboy aura, both in their music and persona as a band.
Now, at 22 years old, Eliann Tulve resembles Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, reincarnated as an Estonian cowgirl. She is enigmatic as ever but stands more firmly alongside co-songwriter Lauri Ruas, the solidification of their roles perhaps accounting for the more hopeful turn their songwriting has taken of late.
Their new LP Horse, which is due out on Wharf Cat on October 16th, finds the band acknowledging the Americana and rockabilly strands of their musical DNA without sacrificing any of the otherworldly mystique that keeps them from neatly conforming to the shoegaze and dreampop labels often applied to their music.
From the album’s opening moments, songs like “Country Church,” with its major key and classic rhythm and blues guitarline, and “Midnight Cowboy,” which sounds like a lost Buddy Holly 45 played at 33 rpm, make it clear that Horse will at least show you that there’s more to them than the near-impenetrable darkness of their work to date may suggest.
While tracks like “Trouble” and “Endless Night” gravitate towards the ethereal production and existential subject matter of prior releases, repeat listens will reveal the same complex compositions and an empathy that are much more a hallmark of Horse’s eight songs.
As a whole, Horse stands as a warmer, more human counterpoint to 2018’s celestial Slow Sundown, and showcases Holy Motors as a hypnotic force that draws listeners in and leaves them wanting more.
This effect, paired with their ability to write lyrics and music that resonate with a deeply relatable feeling of isolation, has resulted in an album built to connect with people from devoted shoegaze and western psychedelia fanatics to dreamer cowboys, driving through wide open country roads under the stars.
Horse will be released October 16th on Wharf Cat Records.
Lead photo – credit Grete Ly Valing.