Stranded Horse: Humbling Tides

Yann Tambour was previously behind the frequently excellent post-rock of Encre and he's still experimenting here, just with a far more limited palette than he allowed himself in that previous incarnation. Specifically, Stranded Horse appears to be an attempt to master the kora on his own terms, while still taking cues from living masters like Malian player Ballaké Sissoko, who makes an appearance on 'Shields'. He's even built two 'travel' koras of his own to make touring easier.
Previously Thee, Stranded Horse, for his second album in this guise Tambour has dropped the 'Thee' as well as the more markedly mannered vocal style he employed on his debut, 'Churning Strides' (under the influence of Marc Bolan, apparently). 'Humbling Tides' is about as spare an album as can be, mostly just Tambour's still fey but more naturalistic, and nearly naturally English-sounding (except when he sings in French, obviously) voice and kora. It's one of those albums that paradoxically, in spite of its sonic sameness – so that any track heard in isolation would give you a flavour of the album – only works when heard over its full length, and preferably many times over.
Not everyone will have the patience for that – I wasn't convinced I would at first, despite the immediately appealing sound of the kora, with each finger-picked, minor-key intro seeming to blend into the last, and a cover of The Smiths' 'What Difference Does It Make' slotting all-too seamlessly into the whole. But even the second time around you start to notice the increasing space that opens up in the songs as the album progresses, the little rhythmic shifts and variations in patterns, and some more striking lyrical lines amidst the pastoral or pantheistic musings, like “staple your eyes to rusty bars” on 11-minute closer 'Halo' (which also has a comparatively frantic coda). Then there's the presence of Mansfield TYA's Carla Pallone (on 'Shields' and 'Le Blue Et L'Éther) who is not only a perfect fit but, on this basis, one of the most distinctive violinists in pop-rock-folk at the moment (who else – Warren Ellis, maybe?) – I think I could have picked out her playing even if I hadn't been forewarned by the press release.
It's difficult to see where Tambour will take the project from here; 'Humbling Tides' ends up feeling like the pretty full expression of his particular vision. But that needn't concern us for now; this is an album that warrants, and amply repays, the close attention it asks for.

David McKenna