It’s not often I’m challenged by an album - and that’s purely my doing, as I can be somewhat selective and insular when it comes to what I like to listen to. I like what I like, and I know what I like. You know how it goes.
I’ve grown to appreciate, if not adore, some of the albums I’ve given more than one or two opportunities to play through, though. Others (and I’m looking at you Turnstile) just never quite work for me. After several listens through the new Fourth Wife album, I’m glad to say it’s comfortably in the former category (sorry Turnstile). I wasn’t really expecting that.
Released in November 2021, Fourth Wife’s Head Fell Between Two Horses plays as a post-punk fever dream, pulling 70’s theatrics a la Bowie through a late 90’s alt-rock filter and adding a melancholic twist. Michael Latella, of Cincy post-punk outfit Hissing Tiles, brings this long-standing side project’s new album to life with bold piano, bombastic drums, and chaotic vocals.
It’s an offbeat, oddly orchestrated album that I’m still fully unpacking - there are a lot of elements that, on their own, likely wouldn’t work. But the way everything is layered, from discordant and jangly guitar and piano that plays like almost erratic punctuation to emphatic, driving basslines, is thoroughly engaging and unapologetically visceral. It has all the energy and weirdness of early Foxy Shazam but with a darker, more sinister sheen - or at least it feels that way when I’m listening to it. Early Cursive comes to mind, as do bands like Moros Eros, Kiss Kiss, and even Dr. Manhattan. A lot of aural touchstones that ended up making this a really interesting repeat listen.
My favorite track, “Cornered By,” is a blistering and dissonant post-punk tune that incorporates everything that I’ve come to find fascinating about this album. It’s also one of the album's longer tracks - still only clocking in under 3 minutes - that’s filled with a lot of noise, but without feeling hollow. It’s moody without stepping over the line into either maudlin or pretentious - much like the album as a whole.
The vocals are going to be a mileage may vary kind of thing. Initially, I admit I was unsure - and I think stylistically, that’s a choice Latella made early on in his songwriting career knowing it was going to be a hurdle for some listeners to get over. It’s reminiscent of Bowie, but stretched out and elongated, wringing emotion from each syllable in a deep nasal delivery. “Dead Action” is a great showcase for how this all ultimately works in Latella’s favor, and is another track that I think really highlights everything Fourth Wife does exceptionally well. I also have to imagine it’s a hell of a good time experiencing this one in a live setting. If I were making music, it’s the kind of energetic, endearingly weird stuff I’d want to be performing, and likely using to end a set.
Do I recommend checking this one out? Absolutely. After a half dozen listens, I’ve grown quite fond of it - and even felt compelled to go back and listen to the albums I think, even if it’s accidental, make up some of its DNA. Grab a bottle of your favorite adult beverage (or whatever you like) and Stream Head Fell Between Two Horses on Bandcamp right here.