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Brown Shoe

The Gift Horse

(Self-released; US: 18 Oct 2011; UK: import)

Brown Shoe creates intricate, huge, pop songs, glacially moving things with arena-rock heft behind them. Guitars ring out to the rafters, Ryan Baggeley’s voice pushing out powerfully. This stuff insists you hear it, its parts tightly woven but rarely subtle, instead crowding you up with layers. The Gift Horse tries for a cinematic size right from the start, on a 6-minute opener, and builds nicely enough to a grinding squall in the end. On the way, Baggeley tells us “I can carry a million pounds on my back / But a feather on my chest could break my heart”.

This kind of hyperbole, simultaneously self pitying and self congratulatory, runs all over The Gift Horse. The music itself plods on with its mid-tempo weight, and sometimes its swirl of guitars is effective. In the middle of all that, though, we have these melodramatic lines being directed at females that are little more than objects on the periphery, things on which these narrators can inflict their feelings. More than once, the subject is instructed to take her dress off. “Colt Rider” sings of a “cold girl with a fever for it between her legs now” while “Sweet Crazy Baby” talks of “your tears from all your loins aching.” In the end, all the weighty emotions of The Gift Horse seem directed more at getting laid than at anything else, and the delivery of that want is unsettling, the women here too often objectified in service of some formless crisis the narrator is going through. This is an album with a sound big enough to reach to the rafters, but it trudges its way there. Meanwhile, the words never quite make it past the bedposts.


Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.

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