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Soy un Caballo - Les Heures de Raison

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Artist: Soy un Caballo

Album: Les Heures de Raison

Label: Minty Fresh

Review date: Feb. 10, 2009

Soy un Caballo is Belgian duo Thomas Van Cottom and Aurelie Muller, who despite their Spanish name, sing entirely in French. On their first LP, Les Heures du Raison, they’re joined by such high profile guests as Will Oldham, who contributes vocals to one track, and the High Llamas’s Sean O’Hagan, who co-produced and mixed the album. It’s not terribly surprising that the duo has managed to attract such illustrious fans and collaborators so early on in their career: Les Heures de Raison is a remarkably self-assured and distinctive debut that delivers consistently from start to finish, blending mellow indie rock and breezy bossa nova with a taste for impressively baroque arrangements.

Soy un Caballo build their songs around a core of acoustic guitar and dense harmonies (usually a multi-tracked Muller, who often abandons the strictures of language for ethereal oohs and aahs). While they occasionally delve into straight-up indie pop (“La raison du plus fort” and “Les vacances” sound like lost late-’90s Elephant Six tracks ), they generally take a more leisurely and atmospheric approach, weaving together dense instrumental textures that incorporate winds, guitars and High Llamas-inspired marimbas and organ. O’Hagan’s touch is evident throughout, whether through inspiration or direct intervention (“Robin” is the best High Llamas track you’ve never heard). Even when straying far from the Llamas’ sound, Heures maintains an overall tone that can’t help but recall their bucolic sunniness and playfulness, marrying an affinity for nature (both lyrically on the outdoorsy cover art) with the insular comfort of the studio. As is the case on most Llamas albums, the songs on Heures are a rather homogeneous bunch, and are more effective taken as a whole than individually. Oldham’s duet with Muller on “La Chambre,” of course, deserves some mention, if only because his French is surprisingly good.

Part of Heures’s charm seems to stem from its subtly anachronistic feel. While there isn’t anything abashedly retro about their sound (excepting perhaps the occasional combo organ and the vintage drum machines), it quite clearly belongs more to the world of late-’90s indie rock that it does to the present. One imagines it playing alongside Stereolab or early Belle and Sebastian rather than TV on the Radio and Vampire Weekend. In short, it seems to recapture the childlike and idyllic vibe of that time, which resurfaces very rarely these days, even in the work of faux-naïfs like Joanna Newsom or Devendra Banhart. Not that there’s anything naïve about Soy un Caballo: the best moments on Les Heures de Raison are at once the result of meticulous care and skill and a capacity to keep such well-produced music from losing its sense of spontaneity and joy.

By Michael Cramer

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