As an instrumental unit, Horse Lords rely on a collective voice and focus to provide the band’s core strength; a process enriched by their disparate musical interests. The quartet, formed in 2010, embraces Renaissance counterpoint, covers composer Julius Eastman, plays instruments specially fretted for microtonality, and organizes its music through polyrhythmic matrices. The ingenious machinery of their music is humanized with exploration and passion.
Guitarist Owen Gardner and saxophonist / percussionist Andrew Bernstein met in the ‘00s at Goucher College in suburban Baltimore—the former steeped in global folk musics and experimental music, the latter a budding composer. As members of the rich Baltimore music scene, notably the band Teeth Mountain, they met bassist Max Eilbacher, who has subsequently blazed a path in electroacoustic music, and drummer Sam Haberman.
From the beginning, the Horse Lords have played music defined by repetition and complexity, often at length, and presented it in ways that telegraph their concern with questioning social and political norms. “Conceptually, our music is always interested in the tension between the aesthetic, the political, and the material domains of art, and the political muteness of instrumental music,” the band says. “How can we imbue wordless music with a radical political message? The whole project of Horse Lords is an attempt to answer this question, and all of our decisions, musical and otherwise, are informed by it.”
Their self-titled 2012 debut album, on Baltimore’s Ehse Records, unveiled the band’s visual aesthetic—geometric art, no photos—and single side-long piece “Wildcat Strike.” Interventions (Northern Spy), from 2016, led off with a track called “Truthers.” That same year, they championed Eastman, a musical and social radical, at a time when his posthumous fame was only beginning to build. Even their practice of dropping EP-length “mixtapes” between their five full-length albums to date undermines standard music-biz rigueur. They have done their best to democratize their touring experience as well, hitting the road often and playing as wide a range of venues as possible.
Horse Lords emerge from a year of Covid-enforce idleness with Comradely Objects, an album assembled in a more leisurely fashion that nonetheless finds them sounding more focused and urgent. And while Gardner, Bernstein, and Eilbacher all recently moved to Germany, independently, the band is still very much an active entity, playing live and looking forward to continuing the Horse Lords project.