Although Horses is the debut release from Robert Stillman, he's by no means a newbie on the music scene. In addition to playing on labelmate Luke Temple's recent release, he's a member of the NYC rock group The End Of The World and has added his saxophone skills to different improvised collectives in both the United States and Europe. If you load up the old iTunes, Horses is filed under the genre jazz, but as everyone knows, the labels within that software are pretty constricted (and because of this, many albums simply fall into the catchall of "unclassified").
At any rate, most of the music I find myself enjoying the most is stuff that isn't bound by strict genre labels, and while it's not groundbreaking, Horses slips into some smooth dreamworld where mellow instrumental rock has mated with jazz and created something that sounds half inspired by windy-city groups like Tortoise and half-influenced by breezy So-Cal pop. After moving to New York a couple years back, Stillman actually started most of the tracks on the release himself, recording all the instrumentation himself on a four-track recorder. Later on, he teamed up with some friends and filled things out.
The result is an album that has everything from saxophones and clarinets to old pianos and pump organs, yet the sound isn't quite as rickety as one might expect. Instead of conjuring up the darker worlds inhabited by the likes of Tom Waits or others who create twisted realms out of old instrumentation, Stillman prefers to keep things light on their feet. "The Dance" opens the disc with a repetitive beat that acts as little more than a backdrop for laid-back saxophone and some piano tinkling. The track splits time between fairly straightforward and an almost waltzing lurch, and the follow-up of "Horses" uses some of the same techniques (this time blending a rhodes piano and more subtle horns and percussion for a jazz-inflected beachcomber soundtrack.
Other than a few diversions (including the outstanding, more ambient bliss of "Love Theme"), the album pretty much stays a steady course in not getting too quiet or too loud. It's definitely not a disc that's going to knock you back with quick dynamic changes or anything else, instead it tries to get under your skin with an instrumental score that could easily be a soundtrack to an old black and white film where nothing too crazy happens but mood is key. That said, the subdued and almost safe atmosphere is probably the biggest drawback of the release (it's easily unobtrusive enough to play in a coffeehouse). Still, it's well-constructed effort that should provide a breezy backdrop once it gets a bit warmer.