Fourth Wife is the long-running project of Cincinnati’s Michael Latella. His latest full-length is Head Fell Between Two Horses, and as in his previous work, Latella stretches, splits, and recombines the crystalline complexity of songwriters like Fiona Apple and Elvis Costello with the scuzzy roil of artists like Protomartyr and Drive Like Jehu. Layers of piano and acoustic guitar wind-chime across album opener “Thoughts On Coma.” It’s a cautious twine that frays as soon as drums thump into frame, beset by a flint-sharp wheeze of guitar. This move sets the table for all of Head Fell Between Two Horses, an album where we are wrenched between fury and calm, structure and collapse, jazz-like harmony and frigid dissonance. It’s a jolt of an album, rife with surprise.
On “Hospital Cop” and “Mona Lisa Boys,” moments of expert melody emerge from the clanging morass, like a secret kept just around the corner. The frantic energy of “Attic” dissolves into languid choruses, themselves sliced by pummeling snare. “I Run With Goon” offers an island of singer-songwriter simplicity before stentorian drums kick out the roofline, while “White Hot Cath’lic Lesion’s” cinematic touches of synth are stomped out by a baked-in-fuzz guitar solo. We’re running through an unfamiliar house, stumbling into rooms crowded by parties, rooms with no floor and a view to the basement, rooms totally empty save for shocks of afternoon sunlight.
It’s no mistake that despite the surface-level chaos, Head Fell Between Two Horses acts like a sonic Rube Goldberg. Every scratched-up moment is a ball bearing on a track toward greater purpose. Beyond writing and performing all the songs here (save for a few contributions by Patrick Apfelbeck on drums), Latella engineered and mixed the vast majority of the record. We’re not alone in the dark house, Latella pulls us along and knows just where he’s going. Of course he won’t answer when we ask. On an album whose title track is a stuttering echo of noise less than a minute long, what could we expect?
Head Fell Between Two Horses closes with “How Do I Quit This Band,” a track whose melody and composition are so timeless it feels more discovered than written. Played plainly on piano and flourished with vibraphone, the openness of the song casts a can light across the album as the kicked-up dust stills. Head Fell Between Two Horses is prickly and claustrophobic in places, sure, but these challenges are more doors than walls, asking to be opened.
– Taylor Peters