Calico Horse is the Clock Work Army, not so much retooled as evolved. The idea for a name change came during recording sessions with Pall Jenkins (Three Mile Pilot, Black Heart Procession), when it became obvious that both the sounds and the growth of singer Emily Neveu called for a new statement.
The San Diego band’s jaundiced post-pop sensibility makes Mirror sound familiar but slightly off, as if a trusted uncle is beginning to find it hard to hide his perversions. “Awoke in the Clouds” sets the bar high for the slightly creepy mixing and a harmonic sense that sublty recalls the Beach Boys. Rarely has the whimsical had such power to give you the willies. The same is true of the Beatlesque “Happy Placebo Syringe Day.”
Neveu’s vocals are the line that all songs have to cross, and they all do, into a distorted territory where pop becomes something more haunting. The cabaret-infused “Father Feed Me” and “Interlude 5” are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but they still have bite. “Wheat” and “Goodnight,” which close the record, slam the set down with piano-driven, disjointed beats and childlike, plaintive vocals.
Calico Horse have certainly made the right decision in burying Clock Work Army and exploring this new tangent in their sound. Mirror is disturbing and dark, but it’s also layered and good-naturedly able to borrow from many genres. That it all sounds very deliberate makes it haunting. But it’s Emily Neveu’s performance that really makes it memorable.