There’s a restrained exuberance on A Dark Horse’s new self-titled EP, their first release. The four songs feature childlike singalongs and hand claps, but the music belies a thoughtful maturity, an eclectic blend of styles similar to Zach Condon of Beirut or UK native Badly Drawn Boy. Each song ebbs and flows, with whispered voices and tinkling pianos drifting over each other seemingly in cycles. The formula works.
James Parker and Hugh Rodgers are the duo behind A Dark Horse, hailing from Dublin, Ireland. Their lyrics are often vague, never revealing much about the songwriters but offering glimpses of the world A Dark Horse imagines. Lines like “The world keeps on revealing / There we are, there we are” suggest a wide-eyed innocence, along with a healthy respect for the natural world. The record glows with such imagery, of butterflies and rivers on the moon, of damp leaves and towering pines.
A four-song EP isn’t an ideal place to explore complex themes, but A Dark Horse has its moments. On the opening track, “Take Me Home,” they sing: “In time there’ll be balance / But I don’t know which road I ought to take.” There’s growing up, embarking on a new day, trying to see everything but not really sure how to make sense of it all yet. And “The Heart Won’t Lie” opens with a simple mantra: “Gotta gotta give it all you got.” It’s a schoolhouse motto, something out of Hans Christian Andersen, maybe. We’re nothing if not the product of our influences, and A Dark Horse is on the road to discovering that fact.
A Dark Horse doesn’t suffer for ambition, but it does find a few moments where its ideas don’t seem fully executed—not unexpected from a self-recorded debut. The challenge is in crafting a consistent mood, ensuring the songs don’t become too formulaic, and letting them breathe a bit. And when that happens, as it does on “Take Me Home,” the duo comes very close to achieving greatness.
You can check out A Dark Horse and pick up their EP on Bandcamp.
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