It’s been two years since Chris Hawtin and Mark Burgess recorded and self-released an EP of demos under the Red Horses Of The Snow moniker. Their debut album, Territories, offers something unique, at least on paper, exploring subjects such as ‘geographical de-territorialisation’, ‘the proliferation of teleological images’ and ‘the contraction of real space in the age of technological acceleration’ amongst others. Sadly, it’s a prospect that is more exciting in theory than in the nine songs presented here.
It’s a record that lyrically would be far more effective if it wasn’t so long-winded in explaining its feelings. Phrases like “It’s difficult to know if we should stay or we should go” (Airborne) and “Could it be impossible that you were not the reason I was at the gate that day” (The Cyclic) feel rather long-winded. Thankfully, sometimes they’re more successful in explaining themselves, such as on the resigned The Love Song Of Howard Hughes, the equally downtrodden Rosemary’s Song or From The Air, which talks of “feelings over rationale”, something that most people in relationships will relate to.
Musically speaking, its worst and best tracks end up standing side-by-side in the running order. Santa Irini is a ballad that is almost too soothing in its gentleness – a bit like a soft summery breeze – and the music itself feels lazy, from the ultra-bland drumming to the uninspired guitar solo that pops up in the bridge between choruses. Siam, which follows, is much better and possibly the album’s most uplifting moment. This is the only song that matches up to the duo’s grand visions; the galloping drums, piano licks and crashes of cymbals all conspire to imbue it with a cinematic quality.
However, the record as a whole feels quite lightweight and repetitive. Once you’ve heard the first few songs you’ll notice a hazy and dreamy pattern occurring that isn’t broken at any point. Tracks like The Privateer have a habit of starting out being quite driven before losing direction around the half-way mark. When you consider that the average length of these is around five and a half minutes, it ends up being a real test of your patience. A fair amount of editing across the board could have chopped 15 minutes off the overall running time and would have made the overall listening experience less of a chore.
Cashier No 9 did a considerably better job of making this kind of shoegazey pop earlier in the year because they upped the ante on drama and variation. Red Horses Of The Snow fall way short of the bar that’s been set for them, since they don’t reach similar lofty heights and nor do they have the songs that’ll linger long in the memory. Territories is a challenging listen, for in the end it gets a bit too much once you face the daunting realisation that they’re repeating the same tricks over and over again.