Though it seems that they've only recently been making themselves known, Minneapolis, MN trio Prize Horse has apparently been playing together for around five years now, and putting in that time has damn sure paid off. Welder, the group's debut six-song EP, piqued my interest right off the bat with opener "3 Tiles," and after the first few listens my general feeling was that it's obviously better than average, but there's also something about the material that's just different enough to make it quite special when held against comparable bands of the present.
In trying to pinpoint the whys, at least in terms of my personal tastes, the first thing that I find interesting about Prize Horse is that the lead vocals are generally subdued and monotone—a quality that I often complain about—but not here. For whatever reason, in this context, the approach suits me just fine. And there are curious peculiarities musically, too. Similarly, for example, there's a lack of variety in tempo. Each composition floats along at a steadily mid-paced three to four minutes, but—again—it's a non-issue. It works.
The EP is far from bland, and much of that comes down to the contrasting variety in the substance of the riffs themselves—a fact that continues to present unexpected eccentricities. Combined with lightly distorted bass, the guitar tones become stunningly dense and fuzzed-out at times, lending themselves to the occasionally dreaded (though not by me) "grunge" descriptor. And, sure, you'll pick up on somber, droning qualities that could tend to check the box for "shoegaze." However, I would call this neither. And while some of the softer, winding runs bring to mind certain pockets of emo, the delivery is so tonally different than most such bands that I wouldn't classify Prize Horse under that banner either.
The generic catch-all of "alternative rock" always remains, fair enough, but... Welder does get pretty damn hard-hitting and heavy at times—notably amidst the ebb and flow of "Emeryth." Midway through "Melt" proves they're unafraid to bust out a quick melodic solo when it feels right. And then there's "Far," immediately the most driving track of the bunch—probably the one standout that immediately kicks in with some real gusto. Not to be ignored: the fantastic production/mix—I've not a single complaint.
Despite the fact that I tend to find "for fans of" hype to be an effective method of demanding appropriate audiences' attention, I'm not even gonna try to compare Prize Horse to anyone else. I'm confident that there are similarities to any number of noteworthy contemporaries with which I'm unfamiliar, because I'm an old man whose primary points of reference are severely outdated. Whether through years-long effort or inherent luck, Prize Horse has stumbled onto a unique sound that nicely coagulates a surprisingly wide swath of influences that's turned out even better than I anticipated. As I write this, Welder has only been up on Bandcamp for a few hours and I'm already on my fourth listen—trust me, that's rare.
I can't believe it's still only January, yet already I'm experiencing another set of tunes that has a high likelihood of resurfacing in December when I cobble together my favorite releases of 2022...