Originally released in 2007 on the band's own Burly Time label and reissued the following year with two additional tracks, Hymns for a Dark Horse is that rarity, an album from the modern acid folk scene that doesn't sound like a hipster put-on by an act that five years before would have been trying to sound like the Strokes. Written when singer and guitarist Phil Moore and his girlfriend Beth Tacular were living in a remote rural cabin while Moore was working for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, tracking and cataloguing local birds, these songs are suffused with avian and other natural imagery, but in a very natural way that doesn't smack of the classic old rock band cliché "getting our heads together in the country, maaaaaaaaaaaan." Songs like "Bur Oak" and "The Marbled Godwit" have enough of the verbal mystery of vintage folk tunes to connect them to a larger musical continuum than the likes of Joanna Newsom can manage. Though the hipsterish oddness of the songs' arrangements -- alongside Moore's vocals and guitar, Tacular plays accordion and wallops on an old-fashioned marching band-style bass drum to keep time -- and Moore and Tacular's typically unlovely indie rock voices keep Hymns for a Dark Horse from sounding like a new generation Dock Boggs, Hymns for a Dark Horse stays close to the folk side of the acid folk label. However, the two new songs on the Dead Oceans reissue, recorded after producer Mark Paulson joined the band as a full-time member, adding bass and drums to the duo's previously spartan sound, show that this vibe may now be a thing of the past. Though the dark, droning "Matchstick Maker" merely sounds like a slightly fuller and more menacing version of the rest of the album's signature sound, the full-band "La Denigracion" sounds straight out of Beirut's faux-European playbook.
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason