“Frontwoman Eliann Tulve is still just 22, but has this kind of expansive, smoky detachment to her voice that perfectly sells the whole thing” – Stereogum
“Unwavering in its moodiness, ‘Country Church’ is hypnotic, an esoteric Western shoegaze with Eliann Tulve’s beguiling vocals melting around rockabilly twangs” – American Songwriter
“Tulve’s peacefully resigned voice and the guitarists’ infinity-pool-style shimmer court easy comparisons to Mazzy Star and Slowdive” – Pitchfork
Estonia’s enigmatic band of ex-Soviet cowgirl/boys, Holy Motors, have released their sophomore album, ‘Horse,’ on Wharf Cat Records (Bambara, Dougie Poole, Public Practice).It’s the ‘more hopeful’ follow up to the group’s stunning 2018 debut, ‘SlowSundown,’ and was produced by Craig Dyer and Leonard Kaage of TheUndergroundYouth earlier this year in Berlin.
From the album’s opening moments, songs like Country Church (which premiered on Matt Wilkinson’s Beats1 show in July) with its major key and classic rhythm and blues guitar line, and Midnight Cowboy, which sounds like a lost Buddy Holly 45 played at 33 rpm, make it clear that ‘Horse’ — even if it may not accomplish the impossible task of demystifying the Eastern European band who make ‘shoegaze that sound like the old West‘ (Fader) — will at least show you that there’s more to them than the near-impenetrable darkness of their work to date. 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 humanity that are much more a hallmark of ‘Horse’s’ eight songs. Though the music of this 4-piece–made up of Eliann Tulve (songwriter, vocals), Lauri Raus (songwriter, guitar), GertGutmann (guitar) and Caspar Salo (drums)–has often been tied to the traditions of Americana and American roots music, Holy Motors were formed in Tallinn, Estonia in 2013, when founding member Raus recruited Tulve, 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 “infinity-pool-style shimmer” (Pitchfork) the band quickly became as un-ignorable as they were inscrutable, rising from the ranks of eager supporting act (for Low, at SXSW) to sought after headliner (at NYC underground-meets-above-ground mainstay Berlin) in just a matter of days during their first unofficial 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 Wharf Cat Records, an album that garnered 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 Estonian 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 DIY (Neu Pick). All this momentum went so far as to capture the attention of one of the band’s very own idols, Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who approached them after seeing a live performance in Berlin and would go on to produce a handful of tracks for the band in 2019 as well as join them for their set at Switzerland’s Festival Nox Orae (you can watch the full set here) during a summer itinerary dotted with European music festivals.
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) 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 favorites) 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 Raus, the solidification of their roles perhaps accounting for the more hopeful turn their songwriting has taken of late. ‘Horse’ 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.
Holy Motors have a hypnotic force that draw listeners in and leave them wanting more. This effect, paired with their ability to write lyrics and music that resonate with the lonely side we all have, has allowed them to connect with people from devoted shoegaze and western psychedelia fanatics to dreamer cowboys, driving through wide-open country roads under the stars.
Listen to/buy ‘Horse’ here
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With thanks to Brace Yourself PR