Milwaukee indie folk duo Dead Horses returned this month with a new album, Brady Street, that captures the mixed emotions of coming into one’s own during these strange times. Its songs of love, community, identity, and regret each toy with how far the duo—Sarah Vos and Daniel Wolff—can take a unique sound that has made their previous releases resonant.
According to their bio, they chose to record in their hometown, which gave them the opportunity to piece it together in waves over a longer period of time. They tweaked as they went, getting the songs exactly where they wanted them to be. The result is a stirring, fully realized artistic statement.
The quiet songs are uncomfortably quiet, but they have plenty of space to expand when they want to. The title track could have built and built, but the duo keeps it in a sweet, ruminative pocket. Even when the sonic layers enter, they are subtle enough to not overpower, to let the lyrics lead. Its vibe is reminiscent of Bookends-era Simon & Garfunkel peppered with something resembling Beth Orton and Elliott Smith. The lyrics, however, are much more rooted in the present than in any form of knock-off nostalgia. “Cognitive dissonance, rich kid libertarian,” Vos sings. “We’re polarizing everything.”
“Ward” is a hushed, ruminative but memorable tune about learning from mistakes. (“I was once a young fool like you.”) “All Good” thickens so slowly that, by the time it hits its apex, it’s hard to remember that it was so quiet and tentative at the beginning. Then the cello enters and ushers us into a space of distortion that makes clear that, whatever is going on, it is very much not all good.
Indeed, like so much of the music releasing this summer, the duo penned many of these songs during pandemic lockdown. Thus, the weight of that experience hangs over everything, even the love songs.
“Strangers have lost their mind,” Vos sings over Wolff’s almost meditative three-chord electric guitar in “Under Grey Skies.” But then she pivots back to something more personal: “Maybe we’ve lost our head, but not our heart. Wanna give it another try.”
Thus, while Brady Street is clearly a tribute of sorts to the neighborhood the duo calls home, it is also a reckoning with all the thoughts and feelings that came up when the world paused for a time. Just as all music is defiant toward hopelessness, Vos reminds the listener toward disc-end: “With the world out of touch, you don’t feel enough, remember you are who you need to be.”
Brady Street is available HERE.