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Oklahoma. To the naïve British mind the name ushers images of tumble-weed strewn highways that cut through rich orange desert, soundtracked by the likes of Woody Guthrie and The Flaming Lips. Although the reality of the landscape may well differ greatly to the romanticised vision of a young Brit sitting in cold, grey Outer-London, the musical heritage of the state is certainly no myth. In addition to the aforementioned, musical gems in Americas crown such as Wanda Jackson, Leon Russell, and more recently the pint-sized vocal powerhouse Samantha Crain all call Oklahoma home. Horse Thief are a new name to add to the list of the Sooner State's musical talent, applying a very American brand of anthemia to the psych-folk genre.
In this case, however, psych-folk is a loose term. There are all sorts of folk/rock variants explored across the length of Horse Thief's debut LP, Fear In Bliss, and each is applied with such unabashed honesty that the final result all the better for it. The distinct chimes of Americana guitar make up a healthy portion of the record, with 'Dead Drum' a consequential album highlight.With a lyrical feel that has nearly Springsteen levels of stars and stripes, the track relies on a simple foot-stomping acoustic riff that transports you to the aforementioned daydream of cruising along sun-beaten tarmac through deserted arid landscapes.
There is a notable taste for the anthemic here too. Very rarely are Mumford and Sons comparisons a point of praise in reviews like this, but occasionally Horse Thief prove themselves to be the exception. On the more foot-thumping and head-nodding moments, as in 'Human Geographer', there is a faint, musty scent of the nu-folk behemoths, albeit thankfully minus the banjos. The same can be said for album opener 'I Don't Mind' bar an intro that is uncannily Beach House-esque. Thankfully, however, there is no tweed/banjo suffocation here, and the hands-aloft brand of folk that Horse Thief have stumbled upon only strengthens the power of what are finely-honed pieces of intelligent songwriting, as opposed to the Radio 2-friendly pieces of faux-sincerity espoused by the Mumfords.
The sometimes sudden switch from grand-scale rock to confessional acoustic is stark but effective. 'Already Dead' is one of the record's most poignant moments, and is a welcome change from mostly crisp-clean production to something a little more Lo-Fi and intimate. Minimalist acoustic guitar accompanies pensive lyrics, "When you're born, you're already dead, it takes a soul to wake your head", and proves that there is more to Horse Thief than just optimistic staring into the sun.
There are also various nods to several contemporary stalwarts of the American alternative rock scene across the length of Fear in Bliss. The opening notes of 'Let Go' could just as easily be the intro to something from The National, while Cameron Neal's vocal at times shares the same slightly rough drawl as The War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel. And it's not only American influences that shine through. Upon careful listen, distinct Smiths and Cure guitar jangles reveal themselves, the Manchester band being a strong personal favourite of Neal's. It's this transatlantic smorgasbord of elements from across the alternative rock spectrum that makes this debut a success, and will hopefully pave the way for Horse Thief to cement themselves amongst the long list of Oklahoma greats.
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