On their second album and first for Run For Cover Records, Horse Jumper of Love perfect their driving slowcore while discarding some of the moping that characterized their self-titled debut. This time around, the Boston trio’s desolation is mostly confined to the dejected guitars, which exude as much angst as a pop-punk chord progression, as much muscle as a metal riff and as much sonic weight as a shoegaze solo.
Lead track “Airport” opens with a supremely introspective demeanor and downtempo pace. Although that moodiness pervades the entire track, its pace ramps up significantly, and there’s some guitar fire breathing by the end—a frequent HJOL move. Though it’s not explicitly about airports, there’s a sense of entrapment in this song, and one would feel confined in such a sterile, uncomfortable environment as an airport terminal.
If there’s one thing you can both fault and praise Horse Jumper of Love for, it’s their lyrics. Frontman Dimitri Giannopoulos has stuck to his guns when it comes to his collage-like songwriting. Examine the lines closely, and they’re essentially fragmented thoughts—some peculiar and emotive, others seemingly random flashes that appeal to the senses. But step back from the Frankenstein’s monster of a song, and one can appreciate it for what it is—maybe not the most fully-formed and well-composed thing in the world, but distinctive, heartfelt and mysterious. Giannopoulos doesn’t just make passing, strange moments of insignificance feel like the center of the universe, but when his specificity connects with you, you’ll feel an intersection of happiness and sadness that’s hard to articulate: “Passenger seat floors a graveyard for / Puddle walkers soaked and ruined shoes”.
“Volcano” is one example of either brilliance or gibberish, depending on who hears it. Or maybe the inability to choose is the point—after all, its own narrator is decidedly ambivalent on this track and others. Giannopoulos sounds defiant one minute (“I am not so threatened / By your past anymore”), but paralyzed the next (“I am not going anywhere”). Later in the song, there’s a line that either deserves to be printed on the front of a goofy HJOL t-shirt or receive the Nobel Prize for literature: “I spilt yogurt on the plants outside / And the dishwasher goes infinitely backwards”.
While “Volcano” doesn’t skimp on lyrical mystique, “Cops” seems pretty blunt, but out of place. Its sole lyric is amusing and dystopian (“All the cops burst into tears of joy / When it’s announced we’re in a police state”), but it’s unclear how this tidbit of social commentary fits into the vivid, reminiscing world that is uniquely HJOL’s own. However, “Cops” is more of an asset than a detractor due to the madcap, head-banging instrumentals that follow.
The slightly intergalactic glow that bookends “Cops” flows seamlessly into “Aliens.” It’s a track some will surely skewer for its outwardly lackadaisical quality, but if blissful sedation was the goal, then mission accomplished. It’s more so the discordant melodies that are the sticking point here, but standout follow-up track “Poison” is a much more successful attempt at captivating slowness—one that makes HJOL so potent and profoundly sad.
Though still not speedy by any means, “Ur Real Life” is where the blowtorch comes out and where the floor starts to rumble. The lyrics are wrapped in a melancholic confusion, but the searing, mid-tempo guitar riff is as confident as they come.
“John Song” sparks a lot of questions, but also warrants no reply. Is the dog “John” the same “her” in the final line? Did the narrator really make out with a trash can or is someone’s hair simply resting on it (“Held your hair back kissed the trash can”)? By the time the otherworldly outro that resembles a more leisurely Slowdive washes over you, you won’t care about the answers anymore—you’ll be too busy basking in Giannopoulos’ awe-inspiring vocals.
“Nature” is their most surprising sonic departure thanks to a circling blues riff. Lush vocal harmonies offer a moment of gentle reflection before they set the house on fire with a fluttering, steamy guitar solo. It would’ve ended the album on such a satisfying note—the final line (“It was too visceral I don’t know / If you’ll ever see it clearly”) acts as a perfect metaphor for the group’s lyrical philosophy, but instead they elected to follow the lead of their debut album by ending with an almost painfully dissonant track “Heaven.”
With fewer clunky missteps, So Divine is a clear improvement from their first album. Maybe there’s nothing as emotionally moving or musically sticky as “Ugly Brunette,” but there’s a lyrical maturity on this go around that they didn’t possess before, and a more refined sound thanks to a consistently heady and punchy (although those jabs are very slow) tracklist. The unhurried sonics of So Divine may not be a great record to put on when you’ve been blessed with the aux cord at a party, but it is the perfect record to listen to on headphones when you’re laying in bed at night, lonely and staring at the ceiling, trying to decide what shade of white said ceiling is.