When songwriter and vocalist Mia van Wyk and producer Paul Gala burst on the indie scene as Hunter As a Horse in 2013, the two immediately caught the attention of listeners and bloggers with their take of electronica. Akin to the works of early Phantogram and Porcelain Raft, their first set of singles – which ended up being compiled under Songs from the Forest – moved you physically and emotionally.
While the London / Berlin duo could have followed the path of Phantogram, Hunter As a Horse opted to challenge themselves and create something new. They retreated to rural Italy for nearly a year, and the result is a series of new music that the two will share in the form of two (maybe more) EPs. The first is The Magics Vol. 1, which is the group’s official debut EP.
Unlike Songs from the Forest, The Magics is a concept album of mystical and fantasy proportions. It is not a Disney-style fairy tale, but rather a dark, haunting story that could only be told by the likes of Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Tim Burton. Like the movies by those great storytellers, The Magics grabs your attention from the very first note until the very last. But not only has van Wyk and Gala’s approach evolved, their sound has also changed, moving away from the synth-pop aesthetics to one that combines darkwave, indietronica, and folktronica.
“Dead Stars” opens the EP with dazzling effect and reveals the new sound. Gala’s production immediately sucks us, stealing our attention away from everything around us and just be focused on the hypnotic soundscapes. van Wyk’s haunting vocals arrive ten seconds later, taking us into the world that she and Gala have crafted. The very first words she sings are:
“I am not scared of these Dead Stars.
Only when I shut my eyes
I saw the truth in the looking glass.”
And like Alice staring through the looking glass, we are immediately captivated and there is no turning back, especially as we enter “The Abyss”. More cosmic and mysterious like a ’70s Bond film in its approach than aquatic, the song is a statement of undying love. It is as if the looking glass has taken us to a time when first love blossomed.
Like in any world – real, dreamed, or make-believe – “someone is watching” at all times. “Passenger” is the song that reveals the entities, strangers who are all around us. This song is crippling and even frightening in its approach, but it is thoroughly engrossing as wave after wave keys, percussion, and van Wyk’s vocals swirl all around us. Just when a reprieve is expected, Hunter As a Horse offer another blow to the soul with the enchanting and hallow “Fallen Leaves”. The song tracks the changes and transformation that have occurred over fifteen years, yet as much as things have changed much has remained the same. With its breathtaking and dark soundscape along with its theme, “Fallen Leaves” would fit perfectly in an episode of Game of Thrones – or even be the one song that is used to encapsulate the entire Season 6 events.
The EP perfectly ends with the crippling “A Million Julys”. Daughter-like in its approach, the song is the aftermath of a great battle or event. For the few that survive, there is hope for new beginnings and the possibility of returning home to find loved ones. There is, however, still uncertainty, as undoing “the damage of time” may be impossible. What happens to the two star-crossed lovers of the song is unknown, leaving us with a cliffhanger.
Just like the great storytellers and filmmakers of our time, Hunter As a Horse demonstrate a mastery of the dramatic, reeling us in with breathtaking soundscape and an imaginative story. So while we may enjoy The Two Magics Vol. 1, we will be anxiously awaiting Vol. 2 to see where the story goes and to which world van Wyk and Gala will take us.
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