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Wunderhorse’s hazy debut delivers a late album of the year contender

Once I caught Wunderhorse support Fontaines D.C. I couldn't help but be won over: debut album Cub is an impressive and introspective delight.

Following Blur’s ridiculous Wembley July 2023 show ticket price revelation, an online backlash began in reaction to paying so much for an older band when so many upcoming artists were being neglected. I was quickly won over by this viewpoint too. Rather than pay silly money for a middle-aged act (albeit a very good one at that) reclaiming their youth, why not pay a fraction of this price to watch a talented new artist grow instead.

And if you have tickets for your favourite artist, why not arrive 45 minutes earlier to give the support band a chance? Who knows, you may even be seeing tomorrow's superstars.

This leads me to Wunderhorse and their support slot for one of today’s most important current bands, Fontaines D.C.. You see, usually I can take or leave a support act and I’ll admit to all too often finding it tough to resist an extra pint in the pub before a gig. But now my mindset is changing.

With tickets booked to see the Irish post-punk rockers at Glasgow’s 02 Academy on Thursday evening (16 November), I felt compelled to check out the support act on Spotify prior to seeing them live. With Wunderhorse being the name on the bill, I took the plunge and over the coming days listened to their debut album multiple times. Boy, was I impressed.

On the night itself, self-discipline was maintained and a pre-drink in the centre of Glasgow was reluctantly resisted in order to get in nice and early to check them out. Despite a general air of ambivalence from the audience (as is often the case with support bands), Wunderhorse definitely made their half-hour support slot count. The baggy-clothed frontman nonchalantly swayed and rocked out, with the drummer playing as if his life depended on it. It made me wish to investigate their music even more. As the end of the year approaches, I find their debut album amongst my favourite records of the year.

So now I've been won over, I guess I should introduce them. Wunderhorse is the new project from musician and actor Jacob Slater. Having played Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook in the recent smash FX Series Pistol and previously been the frontman of the chaotic punk band Dead Pretties before their premature demise, he’s already got quite the back story. Following his first band’s demise, he almost quit music altogether: “I was tired of having to get up on stage and pretend I wanted to throw myself around and smash things up every night and sing these intense songs” revealed Slater to Far Out Magazine. The drug-taking soon ceased and he stopped the band in 2017.

Despite a hype surrounding a handful of Dead Pretties singles, Slater felt his riotous Iggy Pop persona was no longer fulfilling. More importantly, his creativity was being thwarted. He distanced himself from music and a period of self-reflection occurred. He moved back to his parent's house in Hertford and later relocated to Cornwall to become a surfing instructor. It was during this time he re-found his love of music and pursued a more introspective approach to his songwriting. Before long, the Wunderhorse project was born. After first single ‘Teal’ debuted last year, more singles followed and his debut album was released last month to high critical acclaim.

Which isn't surprising. Cub is an impressive piece of work, one which can’t help but draw you back time and time again. Brutally honest, introspective and shoegazey, the guitars move effortlessly between heavy and delicate. It leaves quite the impact and little wonder big names in the indie rock scene like Fontaines D.C. felt the desire to ask Wunderhorse to open for them.

The track selection is wonderful and varied. On reflective opener ‘Butterflies’, Slater remembers an awkward sexual encounter (“You laughed and turned away / But I remember it perfectly / ‘Cause tattooed on your spine / Was a million butterflies”) with the crashing guitars adding a sense of anxiety. A few tracks later, ‘17’ carries a similar sense of poignancy, instead featuring increased tenderness and a lo-fi quality. The imposter syndrome-inspired song itself was written when he was 17 after a bad party experience, leading him to sing in the chorus “Don’t go/ Don’t leave me here/ Where it feels like I’m dying/ That feeling of fear”.

He shows his flexibility in the blues rock of ‘Leader of the Pack’, providing the hookiest and most anthemic on the record – it was one I’d inadvertently liked on Spotify months ago after (I assume) hearing it on 6Music. On ‘Teal’ a bright melody contrasts with a frantic story of young love and hardship. It has a classic storytelling feel and instantly sprung out as a favourite.

On ‘Poppy’, Slater’s delicate vocals are quickly overshadowed by loud guitars as the song moves into a stunning psychedelic direction. Meanwhile, penultimate track ‘Morphine’ offers a reflective, hazy high point which you’ll feel in your gut: like so many other moments on this debut, it’s beautiful.

Cub is an introspective, shoegaze delight which has entered my album of the year thoughts late into the year. And its brilliance has made a compelling case for giving upcoming support bands a shot. So I guess my advice to those annoyed they’ve missed out on Blur tickets is this: spend less time fixating on nostalgic acts and realise bands like Wunderhorse are the future - your life will feel more enriched for looking forward.


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