I first experienced Tall Horse’s debut LP in an ideal setting: driving home on rural backroads as thunderheads darkened the sky. On Howl Mouth, this Portland trio exudes an electrifying kind of melancholy, writing songs about failed dreams and toxic relationships that slowly billow until they explode. Singer/guitarist Nick Poulin, bassist Dominic Grosso and drummer Devin Ivy have made a striking evolution from the earnest alt-country of 2014’s heartbreaking Glue EP, embracing a more atmospheric post-punk aesthetic. There’s still plenty of acoustic strumming, but it’s muted, never chiming. Grosso channels The Cure’s Simon Gallup on songs like “Fucked Up,” his bass lines a reassuring foothold. Guitars are drowned in effects, mourning from a distance until they rush to the fore like feelings being purged. This is all fertile ground for Poulin to sing his guts out. His cracked yelp is dripping in pathos, like Wayne Coyne waking up after a bender, or a can of helium getting kicked down the street. “You have one damn decision / You can swim, or you can drown,” Poulin challenges us in a typically dire lyric. But it’s hard to believe him, because his voice is proof that we have a third option. We can soar.
— Joe Sweeney
Tall Horse plays a CD release show July 8 at SPACE Gallery.