When I saw The Horse Company playing on Incubate earlier this year, I was slightly disappointed. Rumour had it that the band from Zwolle was going to return with a great indie rock record this year, yet all I saw was a band struggling with equipment, somewhat uneasy being on stage. The latter understandable, considering this was their first show in over a year and the first show playing the new material. And honestly, it wasn’t bad at all. It just wasn’t what I had anticipated based on the buzz that preceded the show, or better that preceded the recorded. So I left Cul de Sac a sceptic, not too convinced that Calypso would really live up to the expectation that the rumours were building up.
But this initial scepticism has vanished completely. To some distant hidden cave, somewhere on one of the Greek islands where we would normally find the sea nymph Calypso, daughter of Atlas. Just like with their second album, Olympus, The Horse Company has tapped into Ancient Greeks mythology. But where that title was a bit over the top, or better yet, aimed slightly too high, this record indeed places them amongst the Gods. Or at least at the inner ring of angels (I know, I am mixing up to totally unconnected stories here, even though Dante does mention some Ancients – like Homer – and places them on the outer rim of Purgatory).
Angels of Dutch indie rock and underground that is. The bearded roots rock of their album has been pushed in a far corner to make place for a more trimmed 1990s indie rock sound. Somewhere in the distance you still here some of the old influences, hidden in layers of laid-back guitar melodies, or in the playful melodic bass lines. Somewhat in a way that American Music Club hides their American roots in otherwise poppy tunes. In the three years since Olympus that band apparently has been working on developing another sound, a broader one.
While Olympus a certain points could have been a record recorded in a studio in Denton (TX) by a band hailing from Denton (TX) rocking the indie into roots (or vice versa), Calypso brings together the grandeur of bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol (Random Hearts) with the experimental indiepop of dEus (Front Forming), psychedelics of the 1970s (Nearly Broke Your Heart) and some brushed up indierock influences from the early 1990s (One Wheel). A long list of names that one could refer to, but what makes Calypso a better record than Olympus is simply the fact that these influences have all merged, melted into a laid-back sound clearly definable as “The Horse Company”.
But this new sound does create a problem or – better yet – a challenge for The Horse Company. Listening to Calypso I realised why the show of the band didn’t really kick off during Incubate. The multi-layered songs filled with small subtleties in those layers that sometimes are hardly noticeable, but do create the relaxed atmosphere of the record don’t translate well to a four-piece-band-live-show. The doubled vocal tracks that give the songs an extra depth on your stereo get lost on a stage like that of Cul de Sac, no matter how good the sound-technician is.
Not that Cul de Sac is a bad stage, far from that, but it is above all a pub with a small stage. Acoustics and available equipment to recreate the sound are not available nor the time that the two brothers had whilst writing, recording, overdubbing and experimenting the last three years. Three years of working in silence on what came out as great, subtlety crafted indierock album that certainly places the band in the Dutch top now brings the band to face the next challenge, to translate that sound, those songs and that subtlety to stage. If and when they manage to do so, The Horse Company can reach for the stars and play bacchanal on mount Olympus.