As we grow, the mind is often dogged by doubt, troubled thoughts about the changes we make and the events we barely scraped through. Thorough ruminations may lead to breakthroughs, but often they lead only to more questions, especially regarding our next steps forward when life seems to halt around us. Desert, the debut album from Horseshoes, lives within these reminiscent moments, striving for brief glimpses of clarity within sordid memories. The album balances its melancholy with a rare kind of space, where visions of golden hour sun shine on through and lift these songs through a bathing sort of light. If you listen closely, you can even see some scant hope, dancing warmly like dust specks floating on through the air.
The band Horseshoes is a moniker for musician Austin Greaves, currently based and operating up in Washington D.C. He created Desert with a small team of backing musicians by his side, and, though details about Greaves are scant, we do gain a good deal of insight into his thought process from a press release he did for Pressed PR. In it, Greaves asserts that Desert is an “album…about loss and new beginnings, coming to terms with the past and considering the future.” This sentiment is duly felt in the album’s lyricism, with Greaves orbiting around tales of sorrow and picking through them to find the bare lessons within. In the press release, it’s also noted that Greaves’ main influences are Jeff Tweedy and Elliott Smith, with the both of them having considerable impact on Horseshoes’ overall sound. The hushed, raw and intimate vocal performances from Greaves echo some of Smith’s best work, and it’s clear that Greaves has taken an expert ear for ambience from Tweedy’s stylings on early records with Wilco. However, before comparisons get out of hand, it should be noted that Greaves is not fully indebted to these artists; rather, he takes their strengths, adds his own flair and delivers a project that’s solid and fully formed, both treading familiar ground and carving out a path all his own.
Frankly, if I may drop my austerity for a second, this is usually the part of the review where I butt in with a gripe or nit-pick certain details of an album. But with Desert I honestly don’t have much of anything to critique; it’s truly an album that sets out and accomplishes everything it tries to do. The lyricism of Greaves is both straightforward and peppered with details for the listener to grab onto, which allows these songs to ignore the classic pitfalls of either being too generic or so inundated with individuality that the listener has nothing to relate back to. It’s a fine line that many a musician has fallen to either side of, so to hear Greaves’ already apparent aptitude for this craft, and on his debut no less, is an effect that is staggering to say the least. I found myself returning to this album again and again for the hooks and melodies which caught me the first time, and staying again and again in attempts to glean whatever I could from the profound details left by Greaves.
While on the subject of hooks and melodies, this praise is also extended to Greaves’ discerning ear for crafting his sound and ambiance. Immediately catching passages are supported effortlessly by fine-tuned backing instrumentation, adding that special kind of dimension which gives the listener a warm, all encompassing feeling that both embraces them and keeps them alert, keyed in to what surprises lie within the next track. All-in-all, Horseshoes has created an admirable and exciting debut with Desert, one that will hopefully catch the ear of many like-minded listeners. It already feels like Greaves is approaching a mastery of his craft on Desert, so it’ll be a joy to hear what he cooks up when he eventually finds another oasis.
Written by Nick Snow