The intensely rewarding follow-up to 2021’s Strange Time is an inventive, creative ride of an album that winds its way through all manner of styles
Now and again an album comes along that defies all expectations and refuses to fit into any sort of category. We Are Still Wild Horses, the second release from Australian musician MF Tomlinson, is one of those records. It’s just four tracks, one of which is over 20 minutes long, and winds its way through all manner of styles – acoustic folk, jazz, psych-rock. It is, needless to say, quite the ride.
Following on directly from 2021’s Strange Time, We Are Still Wild Horses reflects a society attempting to re-emerge from lockdown. While Strange Time was written and recorded during those dark days of 2020, its successor is set just as lockdown lifted – and there’s an eerie, sometimes disorientatingly woozy aspect to these four songs that accurately reflects those days.
Opening track The Cloud simply sees Tomlinson at his window, observing people walking past (“There’s a guy, going off his head at all hours of the day and of the night”) and imagining the clouds outside as a portal to travel to better worlds. Alex MacKenzie and Sigitas Botvyčius’ string arrangements are both mournful and dramatic, bringing to mind Van Dyke Parks‘ best work. It’s a relatively straightforward song, which makes it pretty much the outlier on this particular album.
For it’s the remaining three tracks where Tomlinson’s ambition really runs free. Winter Time Blues is, as its title would suggest, an account of depression during those bleak winter months of 2021, with Tomlinson attempting to read the news and make his own breakfast, but failing. Even in a song as ostensibly gloomy as this though, there’s still comedy to be had, not least in a line like “I’ve got the blues again, doing my fucking head in, after all, for Christ’s sake I’m an Australian”.
It’s the arrangements that make these songs special though. Winter Time Blues is bolstered by a horn section, and then an extended guitar solo, reminiscent of David Gilmour‘s peak era with Pink Floyd, brings the song to a climax. End Of The Road is an epic ballad lasting over eight minutes. Inspired by protests like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, its mix of strings, brass and a beautiful piano line, backed up with some ghostly backing vocals from Connie Chatwin, becomes increasingly hypnotic over its running time.
It’s the 21 minute title track that dominates matters though – which, if you’ve picked up the vinyl version, takes up the entirety of Side B. It’s as introspective as the rest of the album, but broken up with some inventive instrumental passages which sometimes sound like free-form jazz at times, and pastoral folk at others. Although it may seem at the opposite end of the musical spectrum from acts like Jockstrap or Black Country, New Road, it produces the same sort of giddy excitement that those bands do – that feeling that musical boundaries are being pushed and the only thing you can be certain of is that you’ve no idea where this is going.
We Are Still Wild Horses may not be a easy, cosy listen but it’s an intensely rewarding one. An inventive, creative album that best to not just listen to, but fully immerse yourself in.