REVIEW: Rocking Horse Winner: Horizon
The Rocking Horse Winner : Horizon [Equal Vision Records, 2002]
Three words? Fruit pop punch.
Horizon is a fresh, daisy-dazzling pop record - all cymbal crashes and smooth soaring vocals. The Rocking Horse Winner coasts the dangerous waves of emo while giving regular nods to mid-90s pop-rock - Sloan, Weezer, Halifax's Cool Blue Halo. Jolie Lindholm sings with PowerPuff spirit and delirious glee, belting each line with sincere passion. A sticker tells me that she was a "guest vocalist [with] Dashboard Confessional", but if I ignore that black, black mark, Lindholm recalls most Neko Case, lately of the New Pornographers. Horizon shares a great deal in comon with Mass Romantic: vigorous, hook-laden tunes; relentless guitar and drums; summer vim; and of course, female voices that rise and fall with slide-whistle ease. On the other hand, the Rocking Horse Winner sell a cleaner, more commercial sound - their songs have been scrubbed of fuzz, distilled with synths and layer-upon-layer of vocal tracks. For the most part, Horizon avoids stupid emo hand-wringing, sticking to pop lightness that wouldn't be out of place on a Backstreet Boys album. "Since I've met you it's all seemed right / Now I'm longing for that November night / I've said it all / Every word I mean, and I just want you back." This is a good thing: TRHW sell their silly, sappy sentiments, make them toe-tap-worthy, and - like Weezer in its heyday - play some pretty fine rock'n'roll. They're not always perfect ("Hearing your voice again brings comfort to me / A comfort so soothing to me / As soothing as this melody,") but hey, Sloan released Between the Bridges.
Horizon's finest track is by far "Orange Blossom", an ode to sundrenched love - "two hearts sitting close by the new river" - and eyes "blue like the summer sky". Each consonant and vowel bounces Beat-style over the glory-glory melody, guitar-hooks jangle along with bumpy drums, and some zippy retrosynth rounds out the bottom. "Error" follows; it's a stop-and-start powerpop smile, replete with full volume "So catch me!" chorus. This isn't brain-surgery, folks, but either is Star Wars, and you'll be glad to hear that Hayden Christensen isn't a member of The Rocking Horse Winner. "When Songbirds Sing", Horizon's first ballad, mixes the best of Clarity-era JEW with Aqua's Tigerbeat romanticism - it's a lovesong for the TGIF freeway.
The middle of the disc doesn't fare so well; there's the dead-eyed, slow-as-taffy "Curable", the pedestrian late-Eighties schtick of the title track, the pretty but meandering "Tomorrow". "Novelty" is, um, filler, but "Playing with Lights" revives things with pop-punk drumming and a refreshing male voice (on backup). After a rousing, gummy-worm chorus, "Christmas Day" closes the album in semi-acoustic style: a soft pink melody and a lovely vocal trill.
If the new Promise Ring disc disappointed you with its "maturity" (read: lack of pop songs), and you're dying for some candy it's okay to like, Horizon may be just the thing for you. It's got sing-song, ring-ding and la-dee-dah, a bite no bigger than Barq's, and, whatever that means, it means something pretty good.