The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Arabian Horse Rich Hughes , June 28th, 2011 08:04

After the sparse ambiance of their previous album, 24/7, GusGus have returned revitalised by the dancefloor and club atmosphere from which they originally forged their sound. For Arabian Horse, the trio of President Bongo, Biggi Veira and Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson moved themselves to a remote cottage set within a lava field in their native Iceland, and renewed links with their previous vocalist Urður 'Earth' Hákonardóttir. This latter move has rejuvenated the trio - Hákonardóttir's euphoric delivery gives the new songs an added dimension and power that was lacking on 24/7. What GusGus have created is a European crossover record that takes in pop, house and techno; a record of hooks to fill not only the clubs, but also your own head.

Album opener 'Selfoss' is a case in point - a crescendo of beats and notes that builds and builds but never reaches the crashing BPM so wanted, and needed, at a nightclub. In fact, it falls apart into a rather French sounding accordion that wouldn't sound out of place on an A Hawk and a Hacksaw or Beirut LP. It's as if you've walked out from the club into the night air and stumbled past a Parisian cafe. 'Over', meanwhile, is a classic piece of Europop that reminds me of Monarchy's aborted album: ice-cool production, rippling beats and charged electronica with female vocals harmonising perfectly in the background. With 'Deep Inside' we're back to our Parisian cafe, but the track switches halfway through, a change of tempo that sees the more anthemic side of GusGus ride to the foreground as the air ripples with charged electricity.

'Be With Me' is a creaking love song that weaves between a simple beat and a soaring string section. This occasionally gets a little too excited and breaks through everything, ripping through the beautiful tapestry they'd previously woven. It's shaped as a brief respite though, a pause in the sweaty, charged rhythms that come before and after. 'Changes Come' has more in common with the recent deluge of synth obsessed acts - rolling waves of undulating keyboard chords creak and crack over a gentle beat. It's only really spoilt by some nonsense lyrics, but they're easily ignored once the crescendo of noise reaches a consistent haze and floods your ears. 'Benched' brings the sinister sounds and weirdness back. A brooding piece of stalking beats and echoing noises that sound as if they're following you down a dark alleyway. You're almost home, it's just around the next corner, but you've got one last, poorly lit, pathway to pass through first...

There's only really one misstep on the album, the rather by-the-numbers 'Magnified Love'. It comes across as some Eurodisco dirge that fails to go anywhere and lacks a cutting edge. It betrays the good work that's been carried out previously, the hooks that litter the rest of the album and sadly missing.

Now on their second album for Kompakt, it seems as though GusGus have finally found themselves a comfortable space in which to work. There's a power behind the driving beats and bleeps that has been lacking. Arabian Horse might not explore the noises and experimentalism of their previous works, but demonstrates an ear for a pop hook and dancefloor-filling beats instead. And you know what? It suits them.