HORSE the Band

The Mechanical Hand

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R. Borlax, Horse the Band's 2003 debut, was a splintered and explosive fete to Nintendo Power Glove fanaticism powered by raucous post-hardcore. Dubbed "Nintendocore" by the California band, the album didn't always work. It wasn't purely realized enough to match the wiry post-rock video game themes rocked by the Advantage, and its grabs at metal, hardcore, and basic noise were too disjointed. Were listeners supposed to laugh, or rock out? Well, 2005's Mechanical Hand fine-tunes Horse the Band's entire operation. Erik Engstrom's keyboard still guides these songs, and often recalls the mechanistic, gawky robot feel of '80s video game music. But Engstrom and Horse the Band recall the 1980s in general, too. "Manateen" is incredible. It starts out by ripping off the same tubular Duran Duran groove that's responsible for the Killers, but shifts garishly into an angular post-hardcore screech, like a noisier version of what Fugazi were doing at decade's end. Horse aren't finished. "Manateen" goes on to crash soft synth melodies into righteous hardcore, and despite these jarring parts and sounds, Mechanical Hand never sounds as fragmented as R. Borlax. The experiments continue. Arrows whiz by, men scream, and drawn swords rattle over the rolling snare of "Heroes Die"'s intro; it soon becomes a monolithic metal trudge. Shades of Iron Maiden, Brainiac, White Zombie, Converge, Dig Dug, and Mario Cart bare their teeth on "House of God" and "Octopus on Fire"; the keyboard stabs away, the guitars ring with something approaching anthemic or at least thickheaded glory, and Nathan Winneke's vocals go from yowl to growl to snark in the twist of an elbow. Horse the Band have to be kidding with portions of Hand, trying to skewer some of the more serious types in metal circles. (Mars Volta and System of a Down come to mind.) The lyric sheet takes pains to write out every elongated word ("I want the Channnngggee!"), and there are a few couplets like "Sleep well mechanical thing/You were fun for a while/But now I'm going to get a burrito." But with so many bands -- especially heavy ones -- pulling out "concept record" tags or just generally being pretentious, some kidding can be pretty refreshing. And that the music on this one is a quality notch above Horse the Band's promising debut makes Mechanical Hand even better.

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