The bandcamp page for Boston trio Horse Jumper of Love explains that their new album, Make-Out Version, was recorded at some point between December 2013 and December 2014. The band can’t recall quite when. I’m not surprised. These strange songs with their cryptic lyrics seem to take place in a world outside of time.
Three tracks on Make-Out Version are soft, swaying acoustic tunes reminiscent of Elliott Smith. “Bagel Breath,” the album’s intro, is a delightfully fuzzed out recording of a repeating pull-off guitar riff accompanied by a chant-like vocal duet. “Stray Dog Song” and “I am an Ugly Brunette… I Want to Have a Lonely Child” follow in “Bagel Breath’s” mellow footsteps with lightly strummed chords and rambling hums. This half of the album is pretty straightforward: bare, acoustic pop.
Then come the ambient songs. The title track, “Make-Out Version” unfolds in a dreamy haze with the gentle swell of saturated guitar punctuated by faint knocking sounds. There’s a distanced, disorienting effect, as though you’re at a party and the music is coming from another room. In “Recoveries,” a single piano chord repeats until it imprints on your brain; a recording of small children fighting breaks the trance. These songs are music as hypnosis.
The genius of Make-Out Version is in the lyrics, which is surprising considering almost half the album is instrumental. The delivery is folky and monotone, the imagery surreal. “It was 666 from a soldier/who was hysterical on a toilet seat/and you could tell he was good looking/just by the way that he would speak.” Yet through the dark weirdness shine occasional moments of loveliness: “I’ll be patient with you, because that’s the way the garden grows and the gardener forgets.”
There’s a recurring theme of self-disgust on the album, from the titles (“I am an Ugly Brunette…”) to the lyrics: “I wish I were a stray dog/eating scraps of meat you gave me/because you saw my ribs and I was dirty.” But while self-regard may be scarce in these dark songs, there’s plenty for listeners to love.