On its first proper full-length, Fear in Bliss, Horse Thief embraces what it does best strong but never showy musicianship, engaging melody minus the canned histrionics and the intricacy of its songs has progressed so much that it almost sounds like a different band altogether. Its arrangements are meticulously crafted, dramatic moments unfurl naturally and frontman Cameron Neals lyrics are more nuanced, purposeful and confessional all the same. The word maturation doesnt often apply to a bands debut album, but it is undoubtedly applicable here.
With songs like the stirring opener I Dont Mind, the elegantly adventurous Come On and the ethereal, hair-raising climax of hidden track Stop, the band pushes itself into new compositional territory while achieving previously unforeseen emotional highs. In its more stripped-down, fragile moments (Already Dead, Warm Regards), Neal channels his inner Robin Pecknold or Mike Hadreas, singing lines like, This music makes me sad/ but I cannot help myself, with an about-to-crack vulnerability, striking a revealing yet relatable chord.
Working with producer Thom Monahan, who has also collaborated with likeminded folk acts Vetiver and Devendra Banhart, seems to have paid vital dividends. His polished, dreamlike stamp is applied liberally throughout the record, as is his ability to extract and build upon a songs positive traits, and the enhancements are becoming. By no means is the album perfect; it runs longer than it should, and save for a couple songs, its essentially a derivative, post-Fleet Foxes affair. But for the most part, Fear in Bliss finds Horse Thief growing into its grizzled skin the skin it was meant to inhabit from the onset and realizing just how good it can eventually become. Zach Hale