Horses Brawl - Ruminantia (Brawl)

The band's fourth album is like a musical detox

Released Apr 2nd, 2012 / By Ben Wood
Horses Brawl - Ruminantia (Brawl) Over the last decade, Laura Cannell and various collaborators have explored medieval folk and church music as Horses Brawl. Their fourth album marks the debut of a new line-up, with Cannell’s conservatory training and self-taught folk chops allied to the more experimental background of Andre Bosman, who, as Hoofus, makes so-called “sine wave and sample based music”.

This series of duets alternates between contemplative religiosity and - when the fiddles pick up the tempo a notch or two - the occasional, more celebratory, mode. The tracks on this album are virtuoso improvisations based on fragments of ancient tunes.

The drones of Bosman’s harmonium create a spooky mood, while over the rhythms of his guitar and acoustic bass guitar, Cannell overlays melodies on recorders, hardanger fiddle (an 8/9-stringed violin, rather than the average four, used to play traditional Norwegian music), and the wonderfully named crumhorn (a Renaissance woodwind instrument).

The jaunty fiddle of opener 'Trip to Paris' is about as upbeat as the album gets, while the pace tends towards the funereal on occasions. The harmonium is reminiscent of Philip Glass’s droning, haunting minimalism; while melodies are layered in a way that sometimes, to modern ears, hints at dissonance.

Horses Brawl have featured on Radio Three’s Late Junction and received an Arts Council grant, and their music has a whiff of the uncompromisingly highbrow. This is pretty austere stuff, without much of the joyousness evinced by their peers, festival favourites A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

However, if you want a break from trend-chasing, too cool for school indie scenesters, or bombastic acts determined to throw the kitchen sink at you, these missives from an impossibly distant era could be just the ticket. This is musical detox, the auditory equivalent of a bracingly cold shower or a long run after a night on the sauce.