We are living in disjointed times. Desolation Horse, the self-titled album from frontman Cooper Trail’s new project on American Standard Time Records, takes aim at those disjointed contradictions of life. In eight songs, Trail’s journey colors this music with real emotions like fear, love, and hope.
Trail, the drummer for An American Forrest, has found his voice here on this record. Recorded at the century-old OK Theater in Enterprise, Oregon, and friend Olaf Ydstie’s place in Astoria, Oregon, Desolation Horse carries with it the essence of the places it was recorded. The sonic qualities of these multiple locations are brought together in post-production by Nevada Sowle. The great engineering adds to the lyrical qualities and instrumentation of the record, creating an overall textural experience.
“Social anxiety, social awkwardness, growing out of my hometown…those are all themes on this album”, Trail says, “I process things I’m going through with the songs I write.”
Desolation Horse opens with the weirdly pop-oriented “Everyone Was Incredible” feels like a twangy ode to a group hug mentality or a post-Warped Tour homage to teen awkwardness. The title track elevates the songwriting with its syncopated rhythms. Really lo-fi sonically, this cut feels like a garage band track, sneaking in a subtle cool with its echoes and layers. Each production choice is purposeful, avoiding potential chaos despite the whirlwind of notes.
“Heavy Rain” moves into a deeper mood, both somber and serious. Beautifully reminiscent of better times in disguise, Trail’s songwriting and composition shine on this track. Undoubtedly, this is the song of the album: simple, yet so perfectly wrapped in banjo and harmonica-rich instrumentation.
Tripping into a psychedelic rock groove, “I Had In My Hand a Hand” throws down the sixties vibe. The biggest strength of Desolation Horse is its decision to eschew consistency and keep the listener constantly off-balance. For example, “Crumarine Creek” seems soothing in its discordance. Even a violin’s screech seems to fit in this lush perfection, taking the place of Trail’s heartfelt, soothing, and reassuring vocals.
Why hasn’t anyone claimed “Graceland T-Shirt” for the name of a song? Has it been waiting for this bit of brilliance? Rolling towards the end of this record, this cut is simply a vocal-driven guitar track until the cacophony of instrumentation begins. The layered vocals and essence of Crosby Stills Nash and Young is so nice. This track dances the album towards folk genius. “Superchamp” may be an ode to the music world that used to be: the life of a touring artist. Does that life exist anymore for the music industry, in a post-pandemic world? The song itself is fun, but sad too. Somber closer “A Little Freaky” is the disjointed ending, connecting this record into a cohesive piece. Nearly a musical stream of consciousness, in many ways it links each track together. Heavy-handed backline plodding and lightly moving lyrics show we are all a little freaky. But we’re together, human, with all of our failings, as Cooper Trail’s Desolation Horse shows us. –Lisa Whealy