Ah, now this is nice. New Yorker Christopher Porpora – named Cheval Sombre for his record releases – makes slow music: music that needs time to unwind and reveal its treasures, music for the wee small hours and dark nights. Described by his label Sonic Cathedral as a meeting of Nick Drake and Spacemen 3, Porpora seems to have begun his artistic career as a published poet before releasing his debut full-length in 2009 with help from Sonic Boom, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips. And those three names are probably a decent touchstone for the music on his second album, Mad Love.
This time around Cheval Sombre adds MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser to the list of collaborators (along with that band’s string arranger) but it’s the former three that still mainly inform the music on this record. The Sonic Cathedral description, which is reasonably accurate, suggests that we might be expecting a mix of folk, psych, krautrock and shoegaze, and that’s not far wrong.
Three tracks stand out and set the tone for Mad Love. Opening track ‘Someplace Else’ combines Porpora’s acoustic chords and husky voice with classic Wareham electric guitar work to create a mood of Galaxie 500-go-folk, and Sonic Boom adds some sparkling organ work to make it feel that little bit cosmic. Then it’s a tale of two covers: a beautiful and hazy cover of the Appalachian folk standard ‘Once I Had a Sweetheart’ (perhaps most famously covered by Joan Baez and Pentangle) is enhanced by cello, harp and vague background drones; then a surprising cover of The Walkmen’s ‘Red Moon’ replaces the piano waltz of the original with a morphine-heavy country strum and shimmering electronics. All three tracks barely pick up any speed or go anywhere in particular, but it hardly matters as this is music to slowly savour rather than devour. The languid mood is captured perfectly on ‘Walking In The Desert’ – which sounds like the best song Dean Wareham’s never written – on which Porpora sings “I’m tired of looking around”, and then again on the 10 minute ‘Couldn’t Do’ which vibes on a one-chord riff and spacey electronics yet doesn’t outstay its sleepy welcome.
Of course, any record that’s got Sonic Boom and members of Galaxie 500 and Luna on it will always have moments that sound like Velvet Underground, so we have the gentle pop of ‘I Fell In Love’ whose loveliness is enhanced, again, by excellent string work; and the closing track ‘Let Me Follow You Down’ which floats on a curious mix of flute, mis-timed timpani and drone-y organ while Porpora sings over and over about missing “the smile on your face”. It’s an affecting track because it’s so simple, and that’s probably why the rest of the album works as well. To suggest this is unambitious stuff would be unfair, though: Cheval Sombre achieve a lot through being economical with their music.
Mad Love has probably been released at just the right time; it’s not what you’d call a “summer” record so, when it gets dark later on draw the curtains, dim the lights, grab yourself a malt or the drink of your choice, and submerge yourself into the world of Cheval Sombre.
Listen to Mad Love