Essential New Music: Horde Of Two’s “I Knew I Was A Rebel Then”

MAGNET readers probably know guitarist and visual artist David Lester from his weekly contribution to our virtual pages, which pairs one of his illustrations with text by Jean Smith, his bandmate in Mecca Normal. But that’s not Lester’s only musical outlet. Horde Of Two is Lester and bassist Wendy Atkinson. Primarily an instrumental endeavor, they combine images, text and sound to communicate stories of struggle, endurance and defeat on I Knew I Was A Rebel Then.

The 44-page booklet interweaves a short story about a running meet, a text about 20th-century Spanish anarchist/antifascist Buenaventura Durruti and a description of I Knew I Was A Rebel Then’s recording. Lucid words and stark images converge to communicate the points that whether a leisurely session results in a record being made or a desperate campaign ends badly, the fight against injustice is never really done.

The spirit of struggle courses through the music in several ways. Both Atkinson and Lester give dispassionate voice to Durruti’s words during 22-minute suite “Durruti: A Life In 8 Parts”; their laughter captures the life-affirming spirit of revolutionary Emma Goldman, whose words they invoke on the otherwise instrumental “If I Can’t Dance.” Atkinson and Lester’s music tips the hand to where their hearts lay even when words are absent. Lester delivers some of the chugging momentum he used to bring to Mecca Normal in the 1980s and 1990s, but the interaction between his guitar and Atkinson’s acoustic and electric basses is less hierarchical and more contrapuntal than that between Lester’s guitar and Smith’s voice.

Since I Knew I Was A Rebel Then is on Bandcamp, you can sample the sounds with ease. But if you already connect to Lester’s determination to make art that tries to elevate human existence, don’t cheat yourself out of the book. These are times when it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that success is no reason for complacence, and defeat only closes one chapter in an ongoing story.

—Bill Meyer