A Time for Drunken Horses is curious, clever and creative, a sample-happy mash-up that is consistently alluring and distinctly British. While the album is billed as “experimental folk-drone”, it also includes touches of many other genres. Listen to the first track alone and one might expel breath, muttering, “Bother, another Euphoria compilation”. There’s that world music sample over flowing keys, ripe for exploitation. But by the end of the final track, the listener has traveled the globe and landed in a psychedelic traffic jam. This album never goes where one expects it to go, but its path is laid out so well that all the transitions seem smooth. So how does one get from “Alma” (the Euphoria-esque track) to “Cloud” (the looped, crunchy, distorted closer) without losing anyone?
Start with pure charm. The Indian vibe of “Birds” is matched by an equally alluring voiceover: “A near relative of the sage warbler is the reed warbler. Although more locally distributed, it usually frequents a certain type of habitat.” “Birds” flutters like a snatch of a Solid Steel show curated by Coldcut and Cleese. Later in the album, “Frogs” generates the same effect. London’s Peter Taylor and Maria Thompson (The White Meadows) seem to be having us on a bit, but it’s all in good fun.
The mood remains mysterious throughout, like that of a curio shoppe. The ethnic samples and rusty choral tapes recall Paavoharju, while the willingness to mix dialogue and field recordings into the cast iron pot recalls Second Language’s Tyneham House. Yet while cousins can be found, A Time for Drunken Horses is its own concoction. By layering its samples across a wide swath of territory, the duo creates an expansive feel; at no time does the mix feel cluttered. The empty spaces are filled by violin, harp and percussion, which lend the project a modern dynamism. Tracks such as “Chess” include clear shifts from the sampled to the live, although it’s never quite clear if the former is ever fully discarded. This seamless integration is one of the album’s strengths; few ethnomusicologists would be able to recreate its recipe.
The album’s greatest strength, however, is its sample selection. Crate-digging is easy, but original decisions are not. Taylor and Thompson not only choose the sounds few have heard; they choose the sounds that go well together. While this may seem incredibly simple, it’s not. In the manner of DJ mixes, success requires the matching of tempos, keys, and in this case, regions. Adding British nature recordings was a touch of genius. By “Cloud”, the clash of cultures has become fusion. The repeated phrases, “covered by seamless sound,” “everything’s working out” and “I am well in spirit” sink into a bath of synthesized organs, drawing the disc to a satisfying close. In terms of pure entertainment value, A Time for Drunken Horses is worth every pound. (Richard Allen)