My knowledge of Omaha is limited to that one Rilo Kiley lyric where Jenny Lewis says she’s going to move there and exploit the booming music scene. Well, if See Through Dresses is any indication, there’s something special in that Missouri River water. Another excellent entry in the Tiny Engines catalog, the band’s second full-length, Horse of the Other World, is a dreamy epic where all of the dreams are nightmares. Not in the sense of demonic monsters or running from criminals, but nightmares of reliving past trauma, helplessly replaying familiar scenes without agency. Every song cries out to a vague “you,” a “you” who won’t listen, who has lost their way, who is fading from the narrator’s life. None of the love is uncomplicated. Random names add to the notion that we’re reading private letters.
In some cases, the loss is romantic, with the fights dragged out and splattered with the still-familiar feelings of faded love. On “Pretty Police,” Sara Bertuldo sings “Even though you always let me down / I still cry” and on “Herbivore,” “I love you, too, but that’s no way to react.”
The stakes are higher on the stellar Side B, as Matt Carroll grapples with sickness and death. A catchy synth riff on “Violet” is undercut by the story of someone he lost, a relationship with muddled specifics. Whatever his connection to the victim and whatever the cause of the trauma, Carroll’s self-doubt and grief is palpable within his inner dialogue: “I couldn’t stop you / I had my chance / I didn’t know what you had lost / I couldn’t ask.” He wonders if he could have prevented it, recalling their “great depression” with “Blue eyes painted violet / Dead oceans shimmering.”
The album comes to a head during the urgent “Lucy’s Arm,” as Carroll once again addresses someone who isn’t there. The uncertainty in his voice is gone, as he knowingly asks, “Did you think I wouldn’t notice the slow death?” He has more control, but the situation remains dire. Drug (and/or disease) imagery aggressively colors the chorus: “I used to see that dark horse run through the veins of Lucy’s arm,” memories that won’t be soon forgotten by our narrator. As with much of the record, the emotion isn’t black and white; the first chorus ends with “It’s not enough / I’m not in love,” while the second finishes with “Tear my sleeve / Never leave.” An electrifying guitar solo carries the song to the finish line, though the story remains unresolved.
Bertuldo and Carroll share vocal duties, adding dynamics to an already diverse pallet of goth, dream pop, and shoegaze-indebted sounds. The echoing abyss of “Diamonds” recalls the sparkly expanse of The Cure’s Disintegration, the longing guitar notes throughout cry out in Loveless-fashion, dreamy vocals bring to mind the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser.
Even with an abundance of 30-year-old reference points, Horse of the Other World is a refreshingly invigorating record, especially in today’s indie rock landscape. While many bands are turning inwards, embracing scrappiness and minimalism, See Through Dresses shoot for the moon, creating ambitious atmospheres ready to rock arenas. They combine whispered confession with otherworldly mystery, pulling you in and retaining the allure.