Album Reviews

Issue 2024-032

Introduction

La Horsa Bianca have kindly made available for review, alongside the new release Polemosophy, all of their back catalogue. These will be reviewed in release order. But first a bit about the band.

La Horsa Bianca were founded in 2016 in Charkiw, Ukraine, by bass player and composer Eugene Manko, who also plays soprano saxophone, flute, Mel9-o-Tron, electric organ, tenor horn, acoustic guitar, tambourine, vocals. Also present from the beginning and still in the band are Olga Ksendzovska (grand piano, electric organs, synth, alto trombone, vocals), guitarists Andrew Brahin and Kirill Gonchar (also on trumpet) and Igor Avdeyev on drums and vocals.

La Horsa Bianca. Promo photo by Androsova

From their mutual interests and diverse musical backgrounds has led them to produce an eclectic mix of psychedelic rock, art-rock, space-rock, and prog rock. In the main they are an instrumental orientated band with a few songs setting some Ukranian poetry and sung in their native tongue.

Here at DPRP Mansions we seem to have missed this band's releases as they are now up to five in total. The only release not covered is their two-track 25 minute Covid jam album Welcome Back My Friends...The Show Is Cancelled. All releases are available on Bandcamp. See if you can find it your hearts to support this band given the situation in which they find themselves.

La Horsa Bianca — Somatic Schematic

Ukraine
2018
32:50
La Horsa Bianca - Somatic Schematic
Парашут (Parachute) (7:17), Fantastic, Mr. Hopkins! (6:28), Три чорні хвилі (Three Black Waves) (7:22), Escapology (5:53), Hatbox Moment (5:50)
9
Martin Burns

This debut is a cracking set of strangely compulsive psychedelic space rock tunes. Ones that have a great melodic sense and are detailed by surprising arrangements. They mix up the tempos and loud/quiet dynamics with extensive use of instrumental colour keeps the ear engaged.

Take for instance my favourite track on Somatic Schematic, Три чорні хвилі (Three Black Waves). It has a laid back guitar and synth opening which has a West Coast vibrant sunniness. It moves into a section with organ detailing, slide guitar and vocals that goes to Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd psyche pop. Cheesy organ follows and it pop-rocks into a weirded out coda.

Every track here has more that its fair share of melodic interest filled with sax, chugging organ, creative guitar solos, flute across spacey grooves that just demand you nod you head along. Giving echoes of not only the classic psyche and space rock but also touches of Camel, Nektar and ABBA with its Mellotron, piano and other vintage sounds. This is a modern take on the 70s space-prog. There's even a Dr Who echoing bass theme to the rollicking Fantastic, Mr. Hopkins! that drives this track to the outer limits.

On Somatic Schematic, La Horsa Bianca have produced a take on the 70s psyche-space-prog rock that does not feel indebted to any particular band other than themselves and their obvious love of that era. All debut's should be this engaging.

La Horsa Bianca — Oneiric Numeric

Ukraine
2019
37:02
La Horsa Bianca - Oneiric Numeric
Shiro Ukari (7:05), Merry Blonde Sun (Reynolds' Number) (8:36), Itic (7:57), Da Cao (6:57), Think As A Crab (6:27)
9
Martin Burns

The second album from Kharkiv's finest, sees La Horsa Bianca move into fully instrumental mode for Oneiric Numeric. On which they experiment with their sound "layering multiple organs and synths in Olga's parts — in unison — to achieve new timbres, or preparing a Zimmerman baby grand piano with screws, bass strings and a stack of sheet music to use in Itic. The piano sustained no damage though! We also added more saxophones and flute, played by Eugene, to spice things up in places".

This has worked really well as Oneiric Numeric's five instrumentals show. The opener, Shiro Ukari (literally, a white floater, a mythical Japanese creature with a long tail) is an uptempo, sunny beast of a tune. Full of sparkling guitars, keyboards and sax, that switches around melodies and includes pauses for breath. A great start.

Uptempo harpsichord introduces the Gentle Giant / Gryphon style gorgeous folk influenced melodies of Merry Blonde Sun (Reynolds' Number). There is a horn section and a delicious organ led section. Imagine the two classic bands doing psych-rock, and you would be close to where La Horsa Bianca are at.

They add jazz touches to the psyche on Itic and along with the aforementioned treated piano, there is a wah-wah heavy guitar solo and a bass solo just in case there wasn't enough going on.

There is a building intensity on Da Cao's swirling synths, two guitar solos and a pulsating bass line and some extra fine drumming. The closing Think As A Crab is a psych-rock out driven by the rhythm section, it pauses towards its end for a Mellotron led coda in true prog style.

This is great follow up to the super debut by La Horsa Bianca.

That's two for two let see what number three brings.

La Horsa Bianca — Diluvian Beat

Ukraine
2020
42:06
La Horsa Bianca - Diluvian Beat
Encyclica (5:40), A Missage (7:52), The Mouse Principle (6:58), Laws Of Slow Motion (6:51), It's Not But Damn (9:02), Trumpets Of The Latter Day (5:43)
9
Martin Burns

So La Horsa Bianca's third album Diluvian Beat, worships at the temple of all things psychedelic rock era of the late 1960s to the early 1970s, without it being mere pastiche or retro for the sake of it. The tunes and arrangements are too good and the performances too committed to allow that criticism to stand.

La Horsa Bianca say as they recorded this:

The tracks began talking to each other in surprising ways; a kind of concept slowly revealed itself, and it was: floods. The six tracks on the album form three pairs.

1 / 6: The two poetry-based songs that bookend the album (both poems reference tsunamis and floods).

2 / 5: Moving inwards... A Missage named in reference to the flood in Winnie-the-Pooh, provides a calm-before-the-storm moment, while its counterpart It's Not But Damn has a part in the middle that we call Tsunami, for obvious reasons when you listen to it.

3 / 4: The middle tracks The Mouse Principle and Laws Of Slow Motion... don't bear any specific diluvian-centric reference, but you can feel how Mouse hits like a wave coming in, while Slo-mo pulls you back in a fleeting respite.

The Greek for flood is 'kataklysmos', so the theme feels rather apposite as we ponder the times we found ourselves in. The feeling of being gradually engulfed by things we can't control is sort of reflected in the flow of the album.

I think quoting this at length to set the scene is interesting and I hope it will spur on people, not just psyche fans, to listen to it.

The album kicks off with the loping psych-pop gem Encyclica. A catchy melody to the vocal line that is absolutely lovely, backed by shining guitars over an organ based drone. A lost classic from 1967!

They pack a lot into A Missage's shuffling groove. It brims with subtle energy, engaging flute lines and great use of wah-wah guitar. The Mouse Principle is possibly the band at their most progressive rock. Fast-paced but often switches around for slower parts making use of quiet saxophone.

The blues steeped psyche of Laws Of Slow Motion is an absolute delight. A slow rolling ballad with slide guitar, wordless choral voices and even has the cheek to go all funky in the last minute or so. Terrific, just terrific.

Dark organ, bass and drums open It's Not But Damn has floating guitar lines, a bit of dissonant piano and a blistering guitar solo. Then to close Diluvian Beat the vocals return. Trumpets Of The Latter Day is a Canterbury infused psyche track, in the spirit of Kevin Ayres, Soft Machine and Matching Mole. It has an orchestral density to it as well. A fitting rounding off to the album.

La Horsa Bianca's Diluvian Beat is arguably the best of their first three albums for me if I had to pick just one, but there is only a cigarette paper between all three.

On to number four.

La Horsa Bianca — Polemosophy

Ukraine
2024
40:51
La Horsa Bianca - Polemosophy
Polemosophy I (6:01), Diaschisis (5:48), Polemosophy II (5:57), Akinesis (3:57), Hyperkinesis (2:58), Polemosophy III (6:38), Pseudesthesia (5:43), Isorropia (3:49)
6
Martin Burns

The latest release from the psych / space warriors La Horsa Bianca is quite a different beast from their debut album. And this is because of the reasons the band give.

Polemosophy is a suite
that takes a journey through our headspace
as we find ourselves in a war zone
the size of our entire country
(which is pretty damn big)

Various mental cul-de-sacs
where our minds get caught
transform into wordless stories
that help us become unstuck
at least for a bit

Let it take you somewhere
too

And on the recording of the new album:

We wouldn't be able to pretend that our music exists in a parallel universe where there's no war; neither could we wrestle ourselves into making something decidedly uplifting, nor resort to the musical equivalent of primal scream therapy. The angle had to be different, and it was:

  • examine the mental states we go through day by day;
  • notice that most of them are uncomfortable;
  • notice that even the best ones contain an undercurrent of doom;
  • notice that the shared undercurrent does not stop them from varying wildly;
  • use those states as starting points and create something that serves as a way out of them.'

A word the band claims means "knowledge of war", Polemosophy takes an understandably different tack from Somatic Schematic, bringing out some of their ambient side. Especially on the drifting and rather dull atmosphere of Diaschisis. It feels like an extended and complacent ambient jam.

The opener Polemosophy I is a strange track that features stabbing, repeat chords from combinations of various instruments but seems to me oddly static. Even the heavier section does nothing to lift this.

Things take an up turn with Polemosophy II. It has a loping, bass driven groove that has a sense of momentum, pushing forward through multiple keyboard lines and a fine guitar solo. The bass plays a great role in the hypnotic mid-paced groove of Akinesis and aptly named Hyperkinesis' mad full-on rush.

Erik Satie-like piano opens Polemosophy III before synths and strident guitar take over. Energetic sax rises and fall before some well thought through guitar soundscapes take centre stage.

The last two tracks also have their problems. Pseudesthesia's keyboards, church organ, sax and flute are on a slow build to an ambient nowhere. Lastly, Isorropia has a Frank Zappa touch to its staccato, and partially discordant melody that has a throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks arrangement.

For me, La Horsa Bianca's Polemosophy would be improved by changing the running order of the tracks. Splitting up the three parts of the title track reduces its impact and moving other ones around would put the whole into a better context. I wish I had liked this more and I applaud La Horsa Blanca for not just repeating what they have done before and trying to change things up.

I will have to have a listen to the albums released between the first and the last to see how they got here, maybe then some of its less palatable parts will make more sense.

Album Reviews