CD Review: "The Dreadful Horoscope"

CD: The Dreadful Horoscope
ARTIST: The Dreadful Horoscope

We’ve got like a half dozen new CDs in the past month or so, and this eponymous 10-song debut from Morgantown’s Dreadful Horoscope, just kind of fell into our lap. We’d been on their MySpace page a few times to link ‘em to shows, but hadn’t paid too much attention to their overall sound. Released on Tucker Riggleman’s Big Bullet Records, we had a feeling it would be worth a listen, though, and are glad we gave it a spin.

Sounding like Frank Black and/or Shannon Hoon singing on old Beck CDs, Jacob Matz and crew display a nice alt-folk, sometimes nu-grass bent, sans drums, with an original, trippy ambience.

The songs on the CD are not always hard-charging or complex, (in contrast to Matz’ vocal delivery) but with the layering of multiple instruments (synth and mandolin), they are ambitious, but not pretentious. Matz, on most of the songs, simply strums along on an acoustic, allowing the rich, experimental, sonic textures and ethereal backing vocals to sweeten his songs.

Lyrically, Matz covers love, hate, freedom, fear and power in the songs; a kind of radical environmentalism pops up, appropriately enough for the almost tree-hugging, hippie-type sound.

“The Forest” is some sprightly sounding nu-grass; the mandolin is always fun to hear, and on the songs, it fits right in. Matz, hiding in the trees, finds freedom in the woods.

“Fairly Balanced Mind Clean” has cool wind effects over deep, Eastern sounding strings and mandolin, with Matz, as he often does on the songs, railing against a TV-induced “trance-like fiction” and overall brainwashing of the masses. Spooky, intricate mandolin runs provided by John Morgan (who recorded and mixed the CD) add to the ambience.

In addition to “The Forest,” “Remote Controlled Rapture” is one of our favorites. Catchy acoustic opening gives way to a frenetic, layered distortion, and one of the only times on the CD you hear something approaching a kick drum. Sounds like something off Bad Music for Bad People; a nice snapshot of Matz’ bipolar approach to tone on the entire CD, in one song.

“Wild Noise” is two minutes worth of samples, warm synth and pulsing, miscellaneous noise over an anti-totalitarian rant about secret police and FBI agents. This is the kind of thing that we’d want to hear more of; it really shows Matz’ sight, vision, and creativity -- it would be great to see him do more of this.

“Thoughts to Ignore” floats in on the rustling, spooky samples from “Wild Noise” over acoustic, sax, and eerie pitch-shifted backing vocals, with Matz’ most appropriate line on the CD, maybe: “I'm trying to find a cure for the war in my mind.” So, Jacob Matz, indeed, there is a war on for your mind, an info war, maybe.

“Hands of Greed” is an anti-mountaintop removal polemic over ambling, dirty blues, even more appropriate to hear after what happened in Raleigh County a few weeks ago. Metz sings:
“Buy off all the justices, pay off all the congressmen, get in bed with the governor, and a cut for every senator...The earth weeps at the hands of greed. Business booms, rivers bleed.”
More dreamy soundscapes and Gaia-type lyrics on “Newborn, Culture Entranced,” (“Where man is nothing, and loving is fun,”) -- The Dreadful Horoscope may indeed be an appropriate band name, as nuclear meltdowns ruin the planet.

“I Walk Towards The River” closes the CD nicely with Matz solo on acoustic, finding salvation in a deer carcass, swimming to the middle of the river for peace of mind.

Here would be a good place to give kudos to Morgan (for his musicianship and production on the CD) and Morgantown’s Paul Vallette (Squirrel Sound) for mastering; nice job capturing not only the sound, but Matz’ vocal range -- soft to shrieking, echo-laden where appropriate.

This is a way better CD than we expected it to be; half sunny day in the forest, half bad acid trip in front of TV at night. At a time when listening to an entire CD has seemingly gone the way of the evening paper, Matz’ crazy, Tim Burton-like dystopia is a place we’d want to come back and visit, surprisingly enough.

We seriously wish Matz the best in the battle for his own sanity (in this day and age maybe it is the sane people who actually go crazy) and look forward to seeing where his vision takes him, and us as listeners, next.

mp3: “Remote Controlled Rapture” by The Dreadful Horoscope

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