On “Bees 1”, the title track from 100 Watt Horse’s debut album, George Pettis sings, “I’m so tired / But I’m not sleeping”. This simple statement rings true throughout the course of the album. When listening to 100 Watt Horse, despite the method of listening, be it computer speakers or cassette tape, it is impossible not to be harkened back to a more pastoral music listening experience. The album begins and ends with a quiet, hissing white noise. Although this white noise takes many different shapes and forms over the course of EAFAFAFATTTA, it is always there, present underneath the beautiful, soulful music and filling the silences. It makes sense that 100 Watt Horse have relocated from Atlanta, Georgia to Olympia, Washington because so much of what is accomplished on EAFAFAFATTTA is reminiscent of Phil Elvrum’s The Microphones or early Mount Eerie. The crackles and fuzz incorporated by 100 Watt Horse into their music is reminiscent of what listening to an ancient phonograph or AM radio would sound like, but it is all part of the impeccable package 100 Watt Horse put together for their debut album. The analog experimentation is present and impressive, but what makes the album truly stand apart, wholly unique, is the catchiness maintained by every song on the brief album.
The first two songs on EAFAFAFATTTA set the stage for the listener and what to expect. “Bees 1” and “Bees 2”, obviously being companion pieces, are both short and sweet lullabies, showcasing the quiet, but slightly aggressive, finger-picking guitar work and strained vocals that make Pettis’s songwriting so personal. On “Julie”, the album’s fourth track, and one of EAFAFAFATTTA’s high points, the listener is introduced to George Pettis’s foil, Anna Jeter. The song begins and is carried along by a melancholy, bluesy guitar line and the vocal tension Pettis has showcased up until this point, but then, about halfway through the course, enter Jeter and her quiet, cute voice, in perfect contrast with the hurt heard in Pettis. Not only is the listener introduced to Anna Jeter on “Julie” but also the brutal melancholy that drives EAFAFAFATTTA. At the beginning of the song before the introduction of Jeter’s vocal companionship, Pettis sings, “Don’t you know you can’t complain about the Summer / Or bitch about the weather when the weather’s fine”. Then after being joined by Jeter, they sing together, “Isn’t it a funny thing / We used to get angry / What’s that about”. The lyrics form an image of an individual made cynical through difficulties in relationship. Ultimately, “Julie” displays a universal theme of the millennial generation, the non-tragic and mundane being made tragic and amplified due to a complacent existence.
Both “Wann It” and “Hold It” take a somewhat electronic approach to 100 Watt Horse’s formula. Typically, folk bands throwing an electronic song or two into their repertoire is an immediate recipe for disaster and destruction, but “Wann It” and “Hold It” work very well within the context of EAFAFAFATTTA. The songs are more upbeat and feature R&B elements showing a musical range as opposed to a forced stylistic transition. More than anything, the two songs act as a perfect reprieve from the haunting melancholy of the rest of the album. Placed strategically at the three and seven song mark on the eleven-song album, “Wann It” and “Hold It” counter the album’s depressing soulfulness with an optimistic break. The intentional cheapness of the sound created by the electronics is also worth noting. The clicky drum machine and distorted synthesizers can’t help but induce one to imagine a room full of toy instruments being jammed upon by a collective of savant children, this meant in the most complimentary way imaginable.
On “Systematic”, the best track on the album, George Pettis’s guitar playing and singing become symbiotic, as if the two are inseparable, like the confessions being made by Pettis in his lyrics are being coerced to the surface by his guitar playing, and only in the truest sentiment being expressed can the song crescendo, Jeter coming in to accompany with her harmonies. Many tracks on the album display elements of the folk-pop made mainstream by bands such as Of Monsters and Men and The Lumineers, yet whereas those bands epicness comes across as hollow, 100 Watt Horse reaches the same level of bombast without ever sacrificing honesty. “Heavy Buzz”, the album closer, is the first song throughout the duration of the album to prominently feature piano. Beyond Pettis’s voice and a piano accompaniment being and incredibly beautiful means for the album to close out, it also plays as cheeky homage to all of the forgone folk albums of past to have faded out with a piano ballad.
Truly an incredible debut album, through a combination of catchiness, urgency, noise and distortion, 100 Watt Horse have created a special artifact in EAFAFAFATTTA. The way in which 100 Watt Horse can create such beautiful songs to then completely destroy them, deconstruct them, is something that has rarely been accomplished as successfully as 100 Watt Horse were able to do on their debut. As the songs throughout the album scratch in and out, lack regard for structure, or simply twist and turn, it is like listening to a broken radio but having no desire to turn it off. Taking the mastery of noise Phil Elvrum has displayed throughout his career and combining it with Karen O’s gift for crafting lo-fi lullabies is, perhaps, the best comparison that can be made to the accomplishment that is EAFAFAFATTTA. On “Heavy Buzz” Pettis sings, “Hold me down / Press my fingers to the ground / To the Earth, my oldest friend”, and in these lines displays what EAFAFAFATTTA seems to be all about, enslavement to love and the reconciliation of enslavement through music.
Review By: Taylor James