a dark horse
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a dark horse


Band Alternative Folk




"Seattle Weekly: A Dark Horse - a sound that is compelling, dense, and dreamy."

A Dark Horse (out now, self-released, adarkhorse.bandcamp.com): James Parker and Hugh Rodgers' pretty, folksy indie rock makes you wonder if the ghost of Elliott Smith has chosen to haunt them in Seattle. Creating a sound that is compelling, dense, and dreamy, A Dark Horse prove themselves to be more than commercial-radio-ready. - Seattle Weekly (USA)

"Dauphin: One of the best EP’s I’ve heard all year."

First up in the new reviewing season (it coincides nicely with the start of the academic year in a couple of weeks) are A Dark Horse, whose video for These Butterflies Are Here featured on Dauphin a month or so ago.

Now, I hadn’t done that much research about the act beyond the context of the aforementioned video until now. A Dark Horse are musical duo Hugh Rodgers and James Parker. They were formed in Dublin, in 2010, and function more like an artistic collective than a normal band – they produce their videos, releases and artwork by themselves – a fact which gets their gorgeous sleeve cover even more cool points.

For a debut EP, it’s a long record, containing four songs that combine for twenty minutes of music. They compare themselves to Bon Iver, Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure – though I think more prurient reference points might be found in Bright Eyes, Rogue Wave, Ajimal or even Passion Pit. The first track, Take Me Home, is a dreamy opener, driven mainly by the joyful accordion and interlacing acoustic guitar melodies. It’s a happy song, followed nicely by the mysterious These Butterflies Are Here. A track for a lo-fir summer, it’s a gorgeous song with multiple levels of complexity – the change in pace around the 1:40 mark is inspired.

On third track The Heart Won’t Lie, they build on the lo-fi heartfelt sound explored in the first two songs and inject a healthy dose of catchyness into the lyrics. Piano is more prevalent than anything else, though the backing of strings and odd percussion add some nicely rounded elements. The final track eclipses the third somewhat, by capping the record in a conclusive fashion not often heard on EP’s. The bouzouki melody puts an ethereal finish over a largely instrumental song that repeats the record’s motifs and summarises them in a soporific, thoughtful manner.

When A Dark Horse describe themselves, they say that they “[make] music that is more cinematic than sound or song alone”. I think that calling them a cinematic act is a good description; you could imagine any of these songs cropping up in Wes Anderson film, soundtracking some meaningful visual moment. Regardless of that, I think that this debut is one of the best EP’s I’ve heard all year.

You can download A Dark Horse from their Bandcamp page, here, for as little as you like, since they’ve been so kind as to go down the honesty box route. - Dauphin (Scotland)

"The Peel Music: A Dark Horse // Whispered music with yelling beauty."

'...the songs make you think of firewood crackling somewhere deep in a forest clearing, damp leaves and butterflies, soft forest foliage underfoot and shimmering light filtering through treetops overhead.' These words come directly from James Parker and Hugh Rodgers, as does the music of A Dark Horse (Facebook // Twitter). Originating in Dublin, the guys set out to create songs, videos and artwork under their own limitations (or lack thereof). The result so far is a beautifully self-produced, self-titled debut EP layered with soft banjos, cellos, pianos, guitars, organs, percussion and an accordion. It's delicate folk and perfect to cozy up to.

Joined by various friends on an array of instruments, Parker and Rodgers produce a simple yet lush journey with the EP. Not sure if cinematic captures the visuals their music does, but listening to the EP can almost paint the picture of the gorgeous scenery of Dublin, or even make you nostalgic of a familiar wooded area. The songs are structured in crescendo lulls like mountain tops, flow seamlessly together like running rivers, and are as fresh as a luscious, green pasture. The music holds true to their goal of telling stories 'about walking your own path, recalling childhood freedom and endless summer days.' It's whispered music with yelling beauty. - The Peel Music (USA)

"Bridgetown Sound: Album Review: A Dark Horse EP"

The self-titled album by the Celtic band, A Dark Horse is a must listen for the dream folk enthusiast or just the average music listener searching for something to help bring in the crisp, fall weather. All the way from Dublin, James Parker and Hugh Rodgers wrote and recorded this album that was released August 6 with clear Celtic influences by introducing the banjo and accordion, specifically on the first and second tracks "Take Me Home" and "These Butterflies Are Here."

Although they stay true to their traditional folk side, there are bright notes of current music in their vocals. During certain build ups and crescendos they sound like an acoustic version of Passion Pit. There is an amazing amount of artistic talent within these two musicians who write all the music and even designed the album cover. The music is beautifully slow with eloquent lyrics matched with the perfect arrangement of instruments. The song "Take Me Home" is the perfect example of this as it builds into a big sound after starting with just the acoustic guitar.

This album will be sure to clear any gray skies and ease the sadness of the end of summer. - Bridgetown Sound (USA)

"Bitzl R: a dark horse EP"

a dark horse are Dublin-based duo Hugh Rodgers and James Parker. Today they release the self-titled debut EP - four tracks of richly embellished alt-folk. The songs of a dark horse are melodically straightforward, each one strung around a simple motif, the richness lies in their instrumentation and considered arrangements; a warm blanket of music that rolls from a single thread, knits a fine spun tale and unravels the same way.

Though not exactly lush, somehow the most bare-bones arrangements bloom with heartfelt intensity; introspective quietude with occasional bursts of gang sung joy (‘The Heart Won’t Lie’).

Even the quietest moments have the bustle of a distant woodland orchestra, banjos tuning and organs warming up. But initial quaintness complexifies into something more layered, as in the gently unfolding beauty of the seven-minute-long ‘Silence On The River On The Moon’ - a tune that owes as much to Mogwai’s ‘2 Rights Make 1 Wrong’ as Iron and Wine’s ‘Naked As We Came’.

‘These Butterflies Are Here’ is ambient and almost lonely, lifting midway with full band and added chorals in a tuneful group hug, affection carried from the first track.

This record opens in quiet fashion, rolling guitar lines and vocal harmonizing, however ‘Take Me Home’ is not so much an implication of change as a catharsis wrapped in folk pop, a delicate trick of hushed singing and string parts, from the guitar-and-voice opening verse the song is a blueprint for the record, heart-on-sleeve candor that becomes progressively more elaborate, and infinitely more evocative. As the origins of the name suggests, a dark horse is a sweeping triumph.

Out now on Bandcamp. - Bitzl R (Ireland)

"Les Inrockuptibles: A Dark Horse // Pur sang pop."

Un groupe inconnu, venu d’Irlande, nous dit sur Twitter que l’on sera “seul juge de son talent”. On est bien inconfortable dans la position de juge, mais on peut émettre un avis : A Dark Horse a plus à voir avec le pur sang des Appalaches qu’avec le cheval de trait des campagnes irlandaises. Bizarrement, sans doute parce qu’ils se sont abreuvés aux mêmes sources pétillantes (d’Elliott Smith à Sparklehorse, autre bon cheval), on a même parfois l’impression de redécouvrir Cocoon dans ce folk d’ampleur. - Les Inrockuptibles (France)

"Gold Flake Paint: REVIEW // A DARK HORSE ~ A DARK HORSE [EP]"

Let me begin by saying I have never been to Ireland, the country A Dark Horse hails from. But when I listen to the band’s debut self-titled EP, it is what I imagine the country sounds like. A Dark Horse is an album you need to listen to on headphones, for it warrants solitude and introspection. This is an album you need to allow yourself to feel rather than try to dissect what the lyrical content may infer.

A Dark Horse was recorded by Niall Woods (who also serves as the band’s percussionist) at Porchlight Studios, and this is a project that band members boast their DIY involvement in. Surely this passion and dedication has contributed to each and every facet of this affective album?

The EP’s opening track, Take Me Home, immediately pulls you in with its calming instrumentals and soft vocals. Its intricate, gentle fingerpicking exhibits more than the vocal storyteller ever could. In fact, it is its own voice expressing the underlying emotion behind each word sung. Suddenly, there is an accordion and a cello simultaneously singing. When combined these instruments mix tragedy with wonder. And with guitar carrying the story along its path, we even find hope. Certainly this is where the album’s strength lies: in its instrumentation. And it is exemplified best in this particular song. Take Me Home does, in fact, feel like the process of returning home after a long trip. And such nonverbal storytelling is certainly no easy success.

These Butterflies Are Here, the EP’s first single, finds the vocals taking the forefront. With each passing line, with each beat, we find ourselves far more enveloped in the song than we ever initially anticipated. And suddenly, the keys in The Heart Won’t Lie make you feel as though you are actually in Ireland; it’s the delicate sound of rain trickling down your closed window. Lyrically, this will be the song crowds would sing at a concert. But once again we find ourselves losing ourselves to the cello as the bow moves from left to right, carrying us along the trail of A Dark Horse’s story. The Heart Won’t Lie tells a truth we often ignore. If you listen closely to what your heart says, it’ll tell you to choose love each and every time. And much like this album, you should listen to the music with your heart, not your mind.

Before you know it, you end up at Silence On The River Of The Moon. This particular song takes full advantage of the emotional range A Dark Horse is hinting they are capable of. It builds and builds to its triumphant climax. And when it ends, you remain stunned, like that moment of nothingness after heartache—like the void that suddenly and mysteriously appears when the one you love is taken away.

A Dark Horse in a wildly emotive EP that takes you by surprise. With each listen, you allow yourself to fall deeper and deeper under its spell; you allow yourself to be vulnerable to it. It is by no means perfect, but that is a large aspect of its appeal. Its flaws are intriguing, and thus celebrated. And its strengths leave you interested in and eager for whatever will be coming next. - Goldflakepaint.co.uk (UK)

"Nialler9: A Dark Horse – a cinematic and immersive Dublin folk duo"

On the surface, A Dark Horse are the latest in a long line of folk-rooted acts but the Dublin duo Hugh Rodgers and James Parker take a palette of sounds that can so often come across wishy washy and unmemorable and turn it into a rich, cinematic and substantial sound. It’s the difference between those with an original voice and motivation and those who are copyists of the source.
The music goes beyond just songs,” they say. It’s about recreating and inspiring an emotion.” It’s the all-encompassing drive that comes across clear for me. The arrangements on A Dark Horse’s debut EP are detailed and carry an imprint of careful consideration and knowledge. Rodgers and Parker clearly know what they wanted to do and have executed their sketches in big ways and in a truly immersive project, they also make their own music videos and artwork as well as play the banjo, bouzouki, organ, guitar and piano. They’ve had musical help since their inception in 2010 from Adrian Mullan (formerly of Fight Like Apes), Niall Woods (who recorded the EP), Stephen Shannon (of Strands, who mixed it) Vyvienne Long, v and Luke Slott. They didn’t rush things and it shows. Here’s their debut EP, available for a fee or free: - Nialler9.com (Ireland)


Dubliners Hugh Rodgers and James Parker look spectacularly foreboding on the cover of their self-titled debut E.P., but while it’s not clear exactly what they’re expecting to emerge from the great big woods in front of them, it can’t possibly be bigger than ‘Take Me Home’. A graceful, hypnotic piece of baroque pop, calling to mind the lush, celebratory mood of Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoise, it triumphantly kicks off one of the most accomplished and exciting debuts that have passed through H.P. Towers this year. Nab it for a price of your own choosing at adarkhorse.bandcamp.com - Hot Press (Ireland)


a dark horse (self titled) EP



a dark horse are Hugh Rodgers & James Parker. Formed in Dublin in the winter of 2010, Rodgers and Parker came together to create a band unlike anything either had been in before - making music that is more cinematic than sound or song alone. With the help of some trusted friends and accomplices, a dark horse record and produce their music, make their own music videos and design their own artwork.

They recorded their debut EP in Porchlight Studios in Ranelagh between February and August 2011 with friend & drummer extraordinaire Niall Woods, and brought in other talented friends Adrian Mullan (drums) & Luke Slott (piano, trumpet), Vyvienne Long (cello, vocals) and Adrian Mullan Snr. (accordion).

Their music goes beyond just songs. It's about recreating and inspiring an emotion. From delicately whispered vocals to a banjo echoing through a sparsely furnished room, the songs make you think of firewood crackling somewhere deep in a forest clearing, damp leaves and butterflies, soft forest foliage underfoot and shimmering light filtering through treetops overhead.

Their songs tell stories about walking your own path, recalling the childhood freedom of endless summer days, how we change our lives in the unknown, and how our hopes, fears and dreams are forged within our pain. The songs rise to crescendos before unwinding themselves, their stories told, their bodies broken, but staying with the listener, long after the music has ceased.

Their self produced EP was recorded by Niall Woods & John Bradshaw, mixed by Stephen Shannon at Experimental Audio, and mastered by Richard Dowling at Wav Mastering.

Music videos:

A Dark Horse - Take Me Home