Norwich’s Brown Horse take us track-by-track through their hauntingly beautiful debut album ‘Reservoir,’ an alt-country record full of turbulence and tenderness, born from an inescapable inner turmoil and an undying love of folk, alternative rock, and country music.
Stream: “Stealing Horses” – Brown Horse
I think listening back now, there’s a real sense of disquiet that somehow relates to landscape. There is a kind of haunted feel to the music.
Brown Horse’s debut album opens in a moment of aching, unapologetic intimacy.
Dirty guitars hum and drone while dusty drums set a steady pace, creating – within a matter of seconds – a world we can’t help but fall in love with. It’s within this hushed, fragile space that Patrick Turner sings a story of connection, reflection, and the enduring, everlasting power of music: “From 1999 to 2004, I was stealing horses, you weren’t even born.” His voice is gentle and brooding, up-close and hot on the mic – and for a few seconds, it feels like he’s singing right to us. “But I heard you on the radio late last night, singing an old Jimmie Rodgers song… You sang right through the things I knew, the things I’d left behind. I was stealing horses, you’ve been on my mind.“
There’s a raw pain, as well as an unknowable depth, to these lyrics, and as we quickly come to learn, that’s par for the course when it comes to Brown Horse: The British band ache from the inside out on Reservoir, a hauntingly beautiful alt-country record full of turbulence and tenderness, born from an inescapable inner turmoil and an undying love of folk, alternative rock, and country music.
From 1999 to 2004 I was stealing horses
You weren’t even born
If you come down to this same town
There’ll be no compromise
You can leave your saddle here
But it’s still my horse, still my horse to ride
Released January 18, 2024 via Loose Music, Reservoir is a gentle giant that sneaks up on the ears, engulfing the mind, body, and soul in cathartic, intoxicating waves of warm and wondrous music.
Brown Horse’s debut album is a dreamy, emotionally charged reverie that pays homage to their folk roots, while establishing them as sonic kinfolk to groups like Lucero and Big Thief – contemporary alt-country and indie folk acts that have, in their own ways, broken the mold and charted their own unique paths in the music world.
Formed in Norwich, UK in 2018, the six-piece of Rowan Braham, Emma Tovell, Nyle Holihan, Patrick Turner, Ben Auld, and Phoebe Troup are, like just those bands, a bright spot on the horizon, their music simultaneously sending shivers down the spine while lighting a roaring fire deep down inside. Produced by Owen Turner at Sickroom Studios, Reservoir is, true to its name, a rich body of work ready to engulf all who take the plunge.
“It came out of us moving toward a more electric sound, I suppose, with four of us having played more or less as a folk group before that,” the band’s Rowan Braham tells Atwood Magazine. “When we were able to start playing again in 2022 [after the pandemic], we got offered a couple of gigs and meeting Ben around this time, we felt motivated to really develop our sound. It freed us up to think about the songs as more than just words and chords. I guess it’s the story of us really exploring this new range.”
“We never really set out with an idea of the overall album and didn’t really imagine we’d come out of the studio with the 10 tracks,” he continues. “So it more kind of grew out of the songs each of us had brought in over the past months. We’d always worked on these as a group, and I think that’s where the coherence comes from. We had a number of songs that we felt had a similar tone and atmosphere, but it was only really when we were at the studio that it started to take shape and we were able to trace the recurring themes and ideas. There were other songs that were ready to go at the time that just felt like they were for another record. Musically and lyrically we are responding to each other all the time and I think the set we ended up with really captures a particular time in our lives as a band.”
“I think listening back now, there’s a real sense of disquiet that somehow relates to landscape. There is a kind of haunted feel to the music, which people have picked up on, that is also there in the echoes and reverberations that come up in the lyrics.”
The title “Reservoir” is a nod to the gothic, smoldering track of the same name, which Emma Tovell brought to her bandmates, and whose rich lyrics and sound immediately resonated with the entire group:
Live life from the top shelf corner
of the next town’s megastore
Lick the blood split from the thumbnail,
skin picked wicked sore
Close the clay-covered ground
wood pulp inked pages of a magazine
Polycotton shirt cuff hanging torn off,
halfway from the sleeve
“It felt like it captured a lot of what was going on elsewhere,” Braham says, recalling the first time he and the band listened back to their initial mixes in the studio.. “There are probably different reservoirs across the country that we each picture, but I think it really evokes something. Not to overstretch the metaphor, but it seems to capture a lot with the stuff about water and landscape and this idea of something kind of accumulated and preserved or set apart.”
Bloodied stubbed toes ache scraped
bare across the bathroom floor
Wiping cheeks red wet
from the parade outside the mall
The good times passed and never did they
ever really stop to say goodbye
Bent down, suit tie, snack table,
toothpick to the eye
“Reservoir” is just one of ten moving, soul-shaking songs that introduce us to Brown Horse and show the world what they’re all about.
From the aforementioned, wistful opener “Stealing Horses” to the sweeter folk serenity of finale “Called Away,” the unrelenting overdrive of “Silver Bullet,” and the radiant, inviting melodies and irresistible grooves of “Shoot Back,” Reservoir finds a band unafraid to explore the full intersectionality of the country, alternative, and folk music worlds.
It’s an equally cathartic, cohesive, and all-consuming listening experience. For the band themselves, it’s also a record of the human connection – specifically, their own strong bonds, and the love they share for one another as friends, music lovers, and music makers.
“We hope it catches something about our relationship with each other and about what playing music together means to us,” Braham smiles, “We’ve only really arrived at making this album through spending all this time together playing, initially just at home and then at pubs and shows. We’ve found ways to share our ideas and develop them in an ongoing conversation. I think our way of connecting with the audience is largely through the way we interact with each other, and this is most obvious on stage. We really enjoy playing live, and that’s why the album is mostly recorded like that.”
Highlights are aplenty, sprinkled throughout this record like fertilizer on a field. “I think having [vocalist] Phoebe Troup bringing her parts was really special, and hearing those songs really takes us back to the thrill of sitting on the sofas in the studio hearing for the first time the full Brown Horse sound and what the band would become,” Braham says; for context, Troup was the final full-time member to join the band, just last summer. “I think we all knew at that moment that it had to be the six of us from then on and, thankfully, Phoebe was on board. We were all really happy with the way ‘Sunfisher’ sounded too, the instruments really came together there. Plus Nyle has this huge solo in ‘Silver Bullet’ that I think caught us all off guard.
“I think we probably all have favourite lyrics in each others’ songs,” he adds. “For example, the title track, which Emma wrote, has a really immediate effect and the words have a great kind of spikiness to them. There’s a real attention to what words can do in a song, beyond the initial layer of meaning. And there’s the backdrop of these uncanny, impersonal shopping centres. But anyway, it’s all there in lines like ‘polycotton shirt cuff hanging torn off halfway from the sleeve.’ When Patrick sings it as well, all the consonants and the clipped phrasing add up to something that feels quite unique.”
Moments of unfiltered humanity and unflinching raw emotion help make Reservoir a hauntingly beautiful, instantly memorable debut.
Frontman Patrick Turner has an uncanny way of conveying melancholy with delicate grace, bringing to life the poetry he and his bandmates dig out of their souls. Together, he and his bandmates deliver an engaging, endlessly alluring assortment of breathtaking performances and soul-stirring arrangements that evoke the beauty of life’s highs and the brutality of its lows. Reservoir is soft, yet striking – a force of nature that forever sears the name Brown Horse into our hearts and minds.
“It’s been really exciting the last few days, hearing everyone’s thoughts and knowing people are engaging with the songs,” Rowan Braham shares. “It’s given us a bit more of an idea what the process is and how we can realise the kind of feeling we want in the music. It’s been fantastic working with Tom and Loose and yeah, I think maybe the overarching thing is us working as a band.”
“I hope people hear six people that love playing as a group. If we convey some part of what we get out of music, whilst pushing our sound further, then that’s all we could ask for.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Brown Horse’s Reservoir with Atwood Magazine as Rowan Braham takes us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of the band’s debut album!
Stream: ‘Reservoir’ – Brown Horse
:: Inside Reservoir ::
We wanted this one to introduce the album, as it does a lot of our shows, as it sets the right kind of atmosphere and points in various directions that the later songs pick up on. Patrick wrote it thinking of Dolly Parton’s version of “Mule Skinner Blues,” and it’s kind of a song about hearing a cover of a song, so it has a few layers to it.
I’ll just add here how atmospheric that lap steel is against the banjo and accordion. It’s great when it revs up from those long spacey notes and suddenly has that rusty, serrated edge. Really gothic sounding.
It’s the first song we ever recorded, so we actually did this one at Jason Frye’s studio. We weren’t used to switching from playing live or at home to the desk and booths, so we did very few takes, but Jason was great and we were surprised how well it came out. It definitely seems to be the track that caught a lot of people’s attention and maybe taps into the weariness a lot of people were feeling at the time. It was my first time adding in more of a Rhodesy sound as well – we’d been watching Billy Preston playing with The Beatles.
I guess there’s a bit more shoe gaze in this one. Patrick’s lyrics talk about the end of something and people have pointed out how it’s ended up pretty apocalyptic. Ben’s drumming definitely helps bring it to life. It’s fun to hear us all singing there too and Phoebe’s parts especially really sit perfectly in the mix.
With the heaviest song on the album, Emma definitely is pushing us to where the genre meets something else. It’s got a great 90’s grungy sound with really dynamic parts on bass, guitar and keys giving it a real motor. It’s nice that this doesn’t feel out of place though and I don’t know if she has a particular place in mind in the lyrics, but I feel like Emma’s put lots of East Anglian imagery in there too.
This one dates back to 2019, when I was working at a pub in Norwich. The songwriter it takes its name from is an interesting figure in music history and supposedly sold the lyrics to some songs to Hank Williams, which would become these kind of immortal classics like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. So the story and the myths just kind of conjures up a lot. But hearing Phoebe and Patrick singing together here really is just magic and took the song so much further.
This is one of Nyle’s and again talks about the sounds of a landscape, with a great chorus – “sometimes the silence rings like a bell.” It captures a bit of the Appalachian style music we used to play as well with the fiddle and accordion really filling out the sound. Patrick does a great job on the vocal too. So this was the one we put forward as the first single.
This was a live favourite early on and we brought it back in for the album when we felt it needed another punchy and up-tempo track. The lyrics feel a bit like a fever-dream, with strange imagery and this unspecified secret that the speaker feels its time to share.
Outtakes is the song we’ve had in our sets for the longest and you can maybe hear how this led us to push the arrangement further. It’s a lot about anticipation and of being on the threshold of something. Me and Nyle trade lead parts in the instrumental breaks which is always really nice.
We thought it would be nice to have something at the end that acknowledged our folk past. We wanted it to be like the show’s over but we’re gonna stick around and play while they’re closing up. It’s a really delicate sound and you can hear our concentration as we knew any movement we made would be there on the recording. It was about really listening to each other and also about knowing when not to play.
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© Katie Jones Barlow
:: Stream Brown Horse ::