Following up their woolly 2011 indie debut, Go Deep, Go Wild, Oklahoma City quintet Horse Thief deliver a more subdued but ultimately better-built sophomore effort with Fear in Bliss. With the aid of producer Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers, Devendra Banhart), they've taken the beard trimmer to their bristly, haphazard psych-folk and shaped it into something more accessible, putting the focus on frontman Cameron Neal's improved songwriting. Horse Thief have come a long way since their humble teenage beginnings in Denton, Texas, and while their debut for Britain's Bella Union label still owes a debt to their major influences (Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear), Fear in Bliss finds them beginning to settle into their own identity. Embracing the open frontier aesthetic of their adopted Oklahoma home and adapting it to 11 tracks of warm, guitar-led indie pop, Horse Thief sound infinitely more self-assured and comfortable here. Between the dusty glow of tracks like "Human Geographer" with its unique arpeggiated breakdown and the wistfully punctuated "Let Go," they dial in their parts and let the subtle psych elements tastefully color the background. They let the album breathe and develop at its own pace, even letting the straighter folk elements shine on the all-acoustic ballad "Already Dead." The generally sparkling guitar work throughout the album at times recalls the minimalist pop of Real Estate, but the overall wide-angled grandeur has more in common with the epic prairie fires of Lord Huron tempered with the Americana-leanings of Blitzen Trapper. With the type of folky psych pop Horse Thief employ, the playing field is wide and comparisons to similar-minded bands are going to be inevitable. Still, Fear in Bliss is a lovingly crafted and well-written album by a young band coming into its own.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger