There’s a passage in an old Ovid poem where the Roman poet tries to win back a woman. Upset and desperate to revive their relationship, he spews out a bunch of words, hoping they will please her. One of the lines, when translated, is the type of strange, awkwardly-worded confession that only translation can make possible: “I am not a horse jumper of love.”
That phrase fits Horse Jumper of Love’s sound so well that the band claimed it as its moniker. Formed at the end of 2013, the slow-rock act set out to play music that captured what the members were feeling. Comprised of 22-year-old singer-guitarist Dimitri Giannopoulos, 23-year-old bassist John Margaris, and 19-year-old drummer Jamie Vadala-Doran, Horse Jumper of Love finds itself at the intersection of Silver Jews, Boards of Canada, and The Microphones, the latter of which can be heard in nearly all of the songwriting. Since the three were right in the throes of young adulthood during this time, that meant revising their work over and over again until it shifted from shoegaze to folk rock to near-metal groans. Finally, they have a debut full-length, Horse Jumper of Love, to merit their ruthless revisions.
“[Ovid] is saying that no one in the world could make him feel happier than her,” explains Giannopoulos. “He’s trying to say, ‘I’m not a fickle lover.’” But is Giannopoulos? Horse Jumper of Love’s music—much of which toils in love, a lackthereof, and the inherent battle to deal with the wrath that brings on—comes out in a sad, understated way. There are weighted crescendos, ferocious drum segments, gentle acoustic strums, and ambient waves of electronic all thrown together with emotive thread. Giannopoulos’ love life isn’t detailed in liner notes, but his sonic emotions switch so quickly that it’s hard to pretend his connection with Ovid isn’t a straightforward map.
For such heavy sound, the three musicians behind it keep relatively quiet, especially when it comes to talking about themselves. Inversely, the one topic they all open up about with ease is anxiety. As soon as the nervousness embedded in their music is questioned, they chirp up, talking over one another excitedly. “Me and John’s friendship is based on anxiety, but we comfort each other; Jamie comforts us, too,” explains Giannopoulos. “I feel like songs, for me, are a way to purge certain feelings out of you. I still feel the songs, but I don’t feel how I felt when I made them. That’s a different time in my life. I’m over it, you know?”
Horse Jumper of Love whittles its way through nervous ticks by latching on to sometimes mundane, sometimes lavish, always sharp imagery. There’s spilled bleach on a shirt in “Ugly Brunette”. There’s crumbs in the bottom of a backpack on “Bagel Breath”. There’s a gross mixture of juice and soil in “DIRT”. Every lyric Giannopoulos writes, he writes with the intent of exposing minute triggers welded into our memory. “It’s hard to say what you feel and it’s easier to write a song,” he says. So out come the struggles that 19-year-olds—like he was at the time he wrote the songs—go through.
“If you look at Dimitri’s merits in the context of one song, it’s almost like the phrases are describing details in the background of something that could be a consistent narrative, almost,” says Margaris. “It makes the visual sum something kind of abstract, but those details probably have weight and particulars to him. Then the way that it’s sung or performed emotes that. I don’t think they’re ever as simple as being something sad or funny because there’s both of that in the songs, especially since the body of songs we’re talking about were written at a time when you’re dealing with a lot of that at a young age. Being pulled between different feelings can do that.”
Horse Jumper of Love’s music couldn’t be simple if they tried. Sometimes that indecisiveness hinders the album, but over time, those uncertainties add charm to an otherwise heavy release. With spring—and then summer—right around the corner, the band’s debut LP is a soon-to-be-needed escape from budding flowers, beachy waves, and earnest asides from strangers telling you to smile. You don’t always need to be happy. Horse Jumper of Love take that and run with it, tripping over sticks and stones in the process, but never once letting up to stop for breath.