A Look Back, Five Years Later: Chadwick Stokes’ The Horse Comanche

Posted by Greg on Aug 1, 2020 in Uncategorized |

The Horse Comanche, the third album from Dispatch frontman Chadwick Stokes didn’t end up on many 2015 year-end lists, but it probably should have.

Chadwick Stokes – The Horse Comanche
Record Label: Ruff Shod Records/Thirty Tigers
Release Date: Feb. 3, 2015

This is how it should always be.

The Horse Comanche, the latest album from singer-songwriter Chadwick Stokes, is an exquisite, engrossing and wholly exuberant foray inside the mind of a brilliant mind, few if any, are talking about. With any luck, The Horse Comanche, will fix that. Produced by Sam Beam, Brian Deck (Gomez, Josh Ritter) and Noah Georgeson (Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart) the album deftly vacillates between twee indie-folk and orchestral chamber-pop in a way that inspires from the very first note. Deeply verbose, unflinchingly honest and triumphant in every sense of the word, The Horse Comanche, is one of this year’s finest records.

Beginning with the hushed introspection of spartan and whispery “Pine Needle Tea,” Stokes immediately paints a picture of a landscape both ominous and grey. Gradually the song lifts and yields to piano, swirling guitars and an entire veneer that is both hypnotic and enveloping. To put it simply, it is exactly what an album opener should be. Ostensibly a love song, “Pine Needle Tea” builds on Stokes’ poetic vision and makes a resounding statement. If this is just the prelude we’re in for quite a treat.

Lead single “Mother Maple” follows and opens with a dusty, corn-fed plains motif before yielding to a hazy, laid-back David Lowery vibe. At times the song shivers and shakes with jittery energy and in some ways the song races briskly like an urban evening. Very much the antithesis of “Pine Needle Tea,” the song serves as one of many examples of how diverse and multi-faceted Stokes can be. Having made a career out of reggae-inspired Afro-pop, he is not quick to abandon said genre and does so on the tropical and worldly “Prison Blue Eyes.” Building off the line “I miss the kiss of your crooked teeth,” the entire song feels like a page from the Paul Simon songbook. Second single “I Want You Like a Seatbelt” is a three minute-study in hyper pop that is joyous, sun-drenched and far too brief. The first half of The Horse Comanche concludes with “Our Lives, Our Time,” a rhythmic, buoyant and hopeful look at human rights activism.

The album’s second act opens with the near-perfect title track. Six minutes in length, “Horse Comanche” opens breathy and fragile and delicately weaves its way into something more substantial. Inching past the two minute mark, the languid veneer dissipates and the song turns vernal, upbeat and lingering. Returning to the urgency of “I Want You Like a Seatbelt” and “Our Lives, Our Time” Stokes goes for broke on “Hazy Maze,” a ringing, guitar-driven masterclass that stakes its claim as one of Stokes’ finer vocal efforts to date. From start to finish, “Hazy Maze” is infectious, jangly and deeply rewarding.

Not one to abandon his penchant for introspection, Stokes dives inward on “Dead Badger,” a supple ballad drenched in pedal steel that draws strength from the rich vocals, sprite chorus and some stormy guitar work. Penultimate effort “New Haven,” opens placidly and spirals majestically into a swirly vortex of romance. In the song’s final 90 seconds, all-girl trio Lucius add vocals and the song morphs quickly into something deeply personal, provoking and peerless. For an album full of apex moments, few if any, shine as brightly as “New Haven.” The Horse Comanche concludes with “Walter (First Hello),” a punchy, ebullient groove song that has a flair and swerve that only someone like Stokes could call it their own. Similar in feel to “I Want You Like a Seatbelt,” The Horse Comanche is a promising way to end a truly peerless album.

Given his commercial and critical success with both Dispatch and subsequently his solo career, the power and grace of The Horse Comanche should come as no surprise. That being written, the album has no holes whatsoever. There’s no superfluous filler, no ego-stroking and certainly no cheap attempts at being cute. Instead, The Horse Comanche is teeming with substance, artistry and passion. To put it succinctly, albums like The Horse Comanche should be the standard going forward. To all those starving artists battling insomnia and broken hearts, pay attention, this is exactly how it’s done.

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