All Those Racing Horses
s if being obsessive over music wasn’t damning enough, our kind also tend to associate our love of music with everything around us; failed relationships, high school road trips, the time your best friend got so stoned he hurled on your mom’s rug, sex and, of course, not content in labeling just personal experiences, seasons. The idea of summer albums are probably clear to most (though not all; a “friend” once tried to convince me the Cars were actually winter music, adding to their, and I repeat this only to showcase the absurdity of the whole thing, “cunning genius”), but I doubt others care enough to begin separating the rest into autumn/winter/spring categories, let alone backing it up with tedious and detailed reasoning. Of course, when it gets subjective enough we can rarely agree with one another and then there’s also the great geographical barrier; what “winter” might designate to someone who spends most of his year in eastern Canada like me is probably a far cry from, say, those sardonic fuckers baking on a Miami beach mid-January.
Regardless, there is a desolate quality to winter albums that constantly makes them my favorite kind, if not just because oftentimes the most personal of records are draped in an apposite, cold and subtlety detailed production –the kind that most instantly designate as definite “night albums,” and yeah, the kind that often get me through the winter. I’ve always found myself gravitating toward these types of records, and while this makes me out to be a sad bastard who seemingly likes to sit around feeling bad about life in general, I’m also the kind of person that gets a lot of enjoyment out of others misery. Show me a well written song of desperation and I’ll show you an ear-to-ear smile.
Tamara Williamson’s All Those Racing Horses is one of the finest of its kind I heard in 2003. The UK born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter hasn’t done much that might be recognized outside of Toronto, and her stirring vocal addition to Do Make Say Think’s & Yet & Yet (founding member Charles Spearin also appears on this record, playing trumpet), though excellent, is a rather weak example of her solo material. Her fourth proper release, Horses finds Williamson at her creative peak, finally dusting off the amateurish songwriting that had held back her previous records, especially the otherwise promising Unconscious Pilot.
The first thing to strike most anyone first hearing Tamara is her voice; equal parts Beth Orton, Chan Marshall, Lisa Germano, Kristin Hersh and, sporadically on her downright haunting background gymnastics, Bjork, she has an incredible range and depth to her voice that she isn’t at all shy about showing off and, surprisingly, it rarely sounds overdone (the sole occurrence is during the chorus of the otherwise affecting “Shoot the Sky”). While this is inarguably one of the album’s strongest attributes, the production, also taken on by Williamson, is the real key to Horses being such a great winter record. Highlights “Halfway Home,” “5ive” (yeah, despite the terrible title), “Love Street” (the album’s only real upbeat moment and a cover of the Karl Willinger tune), “Microscope” and “Houses” all center around the stark, almost impersonal atmosphere afforded by her incredibly restrained backing band and an obvious understanding of how to get the most out of her already spacious arrangements.
That said, Williamson still hasn’t found a way to keep her albums free of filler and while most of the superfluous material on Horses isn’t annoying so much as just boring (the overture excepted, but only because it’s forty seconds long and, if you’re into this sort of thing, features a horse), she wisely chose to pile it near the end of the record, saving her best material (the other short instrumental, “Birdy,” being the exception here, which features a modem and while I’m sure it seemed clever at the time, it isn’t) for the first side. On top of that, her vocal mannerisms, sounding like a range of artists most hearing her album would already be familiar with, can grow slightly distracting in their uncanny likeness.
These minor faults aside, Williamson has finally made an album that stands a chance of gaining her some recognition outside of her own scene, and while those down in those southern climates might never quite “get it,” there’s a whole world of people waiting for a record something like this, feverishly searching for a record this personal (not confessional) that manages to steer clear of anything close to contrived.
Reviewed by: Scott Reid
Reviewed on: 2004-01-19