With songs that literally seem to go from a whisper to a roar, Chadwick Stokes’ melodies inhabit a kind of netherworld where it’s never a certainty where they’ll end up next.
Three albums on, Chadwick Stokes is making a formidable impression, although the sound that emerges can initially seem somewhat elusive. With songs that literally seem to go from a whisper to a roar, Stokes’ melodies inhabit a kind of netherworld where it’s never a certainty where they’ll end up next. Regardless, there’s an unmistakable energy and intensity at play here, and regardless of where the songs seem to start out, they ultimately make an emphatic impression once they reach their conclusion.
Case in point are the songs “Pine Needle Tea", “Horse Comanche” and “Dead Badger”. (Yes, Stokes does seem to have a knack for bewildering song titles; “I Want You Like a Seatbelt” may be one of the weirdest ones of all.) Each of those songs start out cloaked in hushed circumstance, only to build towards a raucous conclusion. They provide striking examples of the singular sound that allows The Horse Comanche to make such a formidable impression. Stokes wisely employs a trio of ambient auteurs to go behind the boards, notably Sam Beam, the singular mastermind of Iron and Wine; Brian Deck, who’s worked with Gomez and Josh Ritter; and Noah Georgeson, a member of the so-called nu-folk collective that also includes Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart.
Still, even in spite of the shifting dynamics, the most engaging tracks -- at least for those who may be put off by such an unexpected encounter -- are those that boast a steadier pace. The low-key shuffle of “Mother Maple” and the buoyant reggae rhythms that lift both“Prison Blue Eyes” and “Our Lives Our Time” give their listeners something to groove to. Accessibility is essential, especially for an artist like Stokes who’s only first starting to establish his identity. Nevertheless, it’s to his credit that he doesn’t simply settle for melodies that are easily appealing. Rather, he opts to be adventurous, forging a sound and style that challenges his listeners as much as it may seduce them.
Because it’s true that invention is indicative of an artist’s grander ambitions, it’s clear here -- as it was with Stokes’ 2011 debut Simmerkane II -- that any sudden success he finds won’t come by accident. Stokes seems determined to make his mark, even though his more adventurous instincts may befuddle some folks at the outset. While the arrangements alone offer every indication that there’s something special taking place here, the challenge comes with absorbing all they have to offer. Repeated listenings make the music all the more irresistible, but the reality is, it may take several hearings for everything about it to fully sink in. That’s not a bad thing of course; oftentimes the best albums offer more than that which is immediately apparent the first time around. So credit Stokes with showing the kind of confidence and assurance that allows The Horse Comanche time to find its stride.