Each thumb-plucked note is a solitary thread in The Horse Loom’s blanket of acoustic guitar harmony, and Steve Malley often feels akin to the likes of Mark Kozelek and James Blackshaw in this respect; embarking on intricate sweeps between chords that constantly mutate through Malley’s endlessly active fretwork. But there’s a certain visceral edge to his play that prevents him from becoming some sort of “untouchable virtuoso” – a certain grit and string buzz that welcomes the imperfection that emotive execution often carries with it. Quite how “On Ambition” makes the transition from the album’s most gentle opening to a ferocious power-chord smack around the halfway mark is beyond me, and more impressive still is the way he simmers effortlessly back through the subsequent descent, too.
And then there’s Malley’s voice, which emerges in between the instrumental tracks to put his playing into a beautifully dynamic pairing. It’s a weary, fragile tone, gifted with the subtle husk that lends such a sense of history and melancholy to much folk music (the genre to which The Horse Loom lends itself to most), and neatly juxtaposing the confidence and intricacy of his guitar work with a glow of brittleness and humbleness. Perhaps the album’s most alluring quality is the way in which its soundscape evades absolute comprehension: it’s rich in the intimacy of “one man and his guitar” while simultaneously reaching outward into the realms of panoramic natural spaces.