An Horse’s career reads like the stuff of teenage daydreams: after a few jam sessions, guitarist and vocalist Kate Cooper forms a band with drummer Damon Cox, her co-worker at a Brisbane record store. Enter Tegan and Sara Quin, who meet Cooper while performing at an in-store concert during their Australian tour. Cooper plays them a demo, and before you know it, An Horse is whisked off to rock stardom, opening for Tegan and Sara during a sold-out US tour.
Almost unheard of for an Australian rock band, they break America before the release of their first album, “Rearrange Beds.” Soon, An Horse appears on Letterman, and their track “Postcards” is featured in a Mercedes commercial. For an indie band from a desert island, they’ve got it made.
But now it’s time for the ever-treacherous sophomore album. So many bands have rocketed to popularity with their first release, only to stall and plummet back into obscurity after their second. An Horse avoids any particularly embarrassing misstep by playing it safe. “Walls” features the same sonic formula that caught the Quin twins’ ears—upbeat alterna-pop showcasing Cooper’s keening voice and confessional lyrics. They sound energetic, sincere, and very, very, young. But that’s always been their charm.
When “Rearrange Beds” was released in 2009, indie rock was in the throws of its love affair with the brainy, artsy, and musically complex sounds of the Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear, and An Horse was uncomplicated and pleasingly transparent. But the youthfulness that made them so endearing two years ago has worn thin.
It’s a good album—opener “Dressed Sharply” is hooky as ever, featuring a sing-a-long chorus that sounds like Los Campesinos!, if Los Campesinos! took themselves particularly seriously. Title track “Walls” is the standout; Cox’s pop-punk drumming is considerably more laid back, and Cooper’s usually fraught voice sounds almost relaxed, while her songwriting’s at its strongest. “Windows in the City,” the requisite acoustic-y number, is charming and melancholy, “Tiny Skeletons” is almost heartbreakingly earnest. There’s not a “bad” song on the album.
The problem is that “Walls” is an entirely lateral move from “Rearrange Beds” that evinces not a hint of maturation. There’s a specter haunting “Walls”—the specter of “emo.” Cooper’s lyrics can take much of the blame for this. Barely a verse excludes the pronouns “you” and “I,” and lines like “You said my eyelashes reminded you of tiny ribcages” and “my heart nearly jumped out of my head when they said that yours might stop” sound as though they’re taken straight from a 10th grade English class.
It may be bit much to expect a band to improve with each successive album. An Horse hasn’t, but since they were good to begin with we can forgive them. Even so, “Walls” is just a bit disappointing. While the band’s beginnings seem straight from a high school fantasyland, you’d hope that with their second album they’d have graduated to bigger ideas.
There’s always next year, however, and An Horse are still a new band with incredibly catchy songs and a whole lot of promise. And remember, you’re never too old to have some fun.
An Horse will be playing at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Conn., on Friday, April 29. Tickets cost $17.50. “Walls” is out now on Mom+Pop.