Langhorns - Showstopper

Langhorns - Showstopper

While the recent Nebulas LP was close, I think the most anticipated surf comeback LP of 2024 is from Swedish trio Langhorns, who released a trilogy of LPs between 1998 and 2002. It's hard to choose a winner among these three LPs, with an impeccable sound, a mastery of mood and toughness, and versatility. Mission Exotica in particular showed a wide range of instrumentation, and some of the genre-pushing sensibilities shared by groups such as Phantom Four.

And then suddenly, they're back! over 20 years later! In fact, very surprisingly, they broke the ice with a Christmas single in 2023. But that felt like a strange teaser for their LP Showstopper.

It's actually kind of a strange title. I mean, it's got all the cocksuredness you'd expect from a comeback, but upon hearing the record, that's not the feeling I was getting. In fact, let me remove that title from the album art.

Langhorns (with no album title)

OK, that actually feels more like it. Mysterious, lurking, dark, dangerous. That's not to say the entire album is like that, but I think it's a better starting point.

Showstopper has some really puzzling track sequencing. The titular opening track asks you to take strong notice of a pretty basic drum machine, followed by a somewhat grating single keyboard note playing nearly every 8th note of the song. It's a bold move, and one that I think I like, but it's possible I just convinced myself to like it because I like Langhorns. Look past it and the guitar is much more inviting, with a lot of the dramatic timing that came so easily on their previous records. I actually think it's a decent track, but it's a strange way to announce your return.

So often when choosing the track order of an album, at least a rock album, you open up strong, get the listeners' attention, you give them a second track that maybe shows a little breadth, then you swoop in with some of your strongest songs at maybe 3 and 4. Obviously these aren't rules. There are no rules. But Showstopper does not do that. After the first track, the songs get slower and slower until you hit a song literally named "The Snoozer" at . And yeah, they basically reviewed that song for me.

Now hold on there. Five tracks in, you finally start hearing the Langhorns you thought you might get here with Project Grudge. It's much louder and more active, and cuts in with some very fuzzy fuzz.

But don't get too excited. Next is a 5+ minute long moody track that maybe you expect to eventually build to something, but.... not really.

OK. This all might feel kind of negative. OK, it is pretty negative. I don't think these are necessarily bad songs, but man is it slow, and I feel like my optimism for Langhorns was the primary motivator that pushed me through.

So here's the funny thing: I have seen screenshots of the vinyl. Everything I've talked about so far is Side A.

Let's flip this record over.

"Stoked" is upbeat surf music, with great subtle touches like barely audible acoustic rhythm guitar and what I believe is a theremin. I believe this was their pre-release single, and it's a good choice! It's Langhorns as you expect them to be!

"Stagger" has the sort of pace and beat that the name might suggest, with keys accompanying guitar for a slight horror vibe while also feeling exotic. The base riff is simple but infectious.

"The Sweet Farewell" is a slower-paced tune but with a bit of a romantic flamenco appeal, bolstered by accordion. It works well.

"White Widow" is scattered, sparse, and mysterious before rallying into a crescendo, then collapsing back into obscurity. It's thought-provoking and works.

"The Standoff" is spaghetti western with a consistent gallop, though surprisingly restrained.

Then "The Hog" is a nimble and careful song with subtle danceability. It's not going out with a bang, but it's a strong song nonetheless.

So ide B is remarkably stronger and more balanced than Side A. Is this the Langhorns we've known? I'd say mostly yes, it's enough for me to believe that they've still got it.

But the truth is, I'm listening to this digitally and I have three other Langhorns LPs that I can instantly click and compare to. I have to say the high points of this record just don't match the previous material. Maybe some of this is just missing me. I've seen a lot of praise online for this, but I've also seen some perplexed at the opening track. There's a lot of thought in here, and a lot of what has us excited to hear Langhorns again, enough that I want to hear more Langhorns. It's not a bad record, but it's simply below par for this group.

Digital is currently available, vinyl coming soon.


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