Album Review: Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance

[Matador; 2022]

You’d be hard pressed to find a band more readily groomed for success than Chicago’s Horsegirl. Three years on from their debut track “Forecast”, the fast-rising trio are destined to be one of the most talked about bands, and it all originates from their grassroots approach and love for their home and heroes. Horsegirl take pride in their locale like no others, and honor their rock-forefathers and mothers by way of their debut record Versions of Modern Performance.

This record is the trio displaying their alternative education and combining it with their own rock recipe. They alternate responsibilities, instrument duties, and flip the switch on what’s standard for a rock band signed to a major indie label like Matador. They’re opening for Pavement this fall, and it’s one of those more apt supporting act choices for the iconic slackers. Horsegirl embody 90s rock, but they aren’t just copping the aesthetic for cheap pops.

Horsegirl have the potential to become the most cherished of buzzy bands and that stems not so much from their youth but the fact that they display their self-empowerment through creativity and collaboration throughout. Comprised of three individuals but functioning as a unit in every sense, the band’s debut consumes every morsel of space given and uses it to explore their natural melodic and songwriting prowess.

Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein write the lyrics, and the words drip with vagueness and scarcity while still finding a way to pierce the soul in randomly placed instances. “World of Pots and Pans” references a dear friend, but their focus tends to change rapidly. It should keep Cheng and Lowenstein at arm’s length, but something about their earnest execution makes them feel closer to us.

To put it most directly though: Versions of Modern Performance rocks the fuck out constantly. Take the gorgeously fuzzy “Beautiful Song”, which presents pop hooks nestled between brief thrashings – and the warm production by John Agnello (Waxahatchee, Hop Along, just to name a few) yields an instant guitar-pop classic. There’s also the banger that is the opening post-punk riot “Anti-glory”, the equivalent of a full-size bullet train being fired out of a cannon across a bridge. Lowenstein and Cheng bounce off each other while drummer Gigi Reece acts as the glue for their harmonizing in a way that would make Janet Weiss blush from adoration. The way the trio coalesce on “Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)” is reminiscent of Sleater-Kinney, and every bit as blissful as anything off of All Hands on the Bad One.

But that’s the thing about Horsegirl – while the influences are never far from the conversation they don’t dictate the music. Each track here is unique in its own way, even the intermissions like “Electrolocation 2”, which employs wincing sonics, but combined with a dreamier backdrop provide comfort. This is a band fully in control of their sound, and with powerhouses like “Option 8” storming the boring gates of radio rock it’s easy to see why they’ve gained so much notoriety in such a small timeframe.

There’s something impossibly fascinating about Horsegirl that makes their impact on the scene that much more important. It’s not too often that a fresh-faced band can craft such an engrossing sound that weathered old 30-somethings raised on guitar rock can really get hooked on. This is a headphones and vinyl sound, hearkening back to heroes of guitar tone like J. Mascis, The Pastels, Yo La Tengo and Thurston Moore.

The Windy City is a melting pot of talent, it always has been. So it’s no surprise that Horsegirl were at once caught in a bidding war prior to their signing with Matador. It’s always confounding the amount of pressure music publications put on promising newcomers, but Horsegirl seem unfazed by all of that. They’ve delivered a certain-to-be-beloved debut – one that separates itself from its peers.